CUYAHOGA FALLS — The Board of Education has charted a course that both keeps the district’s superintendent until his planned retirement in five years and establishes a leadership succession plan.

The Board of Education on April 15 unanimously approved a new contract for Superintendent Dr. Todd Nichols that will run from Aug. 1, 2021 through July 31, 2025. Nichols’ current deal expires July 31, 2021.

The board next month will affirm its April 15 vote on the contract after technical difficulties prevented their first vote from being broadcast to the public.

The Falls News-Press learned more details about Nichols’ new contract after the April 19 edition went to press. Under the terms of the contract extension, Nichols will resign from his post due to retirement on July 31, 2025. Nichols will work with the board to hire an assistant superintendent by or before Aug. 1, 2024. Nichols will then work with the assistant superintendent with the goal of having him or her move into the superintendent’s position after Nichols retires.

Nichols is now earning $129,512 and is slated to make $130,807 in the 2020-21 school year, according to District Treasurer Kristy Stoicoiu.

Any pay raise Nichols receives during the term of the contract starting on Aug. 1, 2021 "will be equal to the base rate percentage increase negotiated with [the Cuyahoga Falls Education Association]," said Stoicoiu.

The CFEA’s current pact expires Aug. 1. The administration and CFEA leaders will soon begin negotiations on a new contract.

Board planning to affirm contract vote at May 6 meeting

Due to COVID-19, the board’s April 15 meeting in the Cuyahoga Falls High School Library was available to the public through a livestream feed on YouTube. The vote on Nichols’ contract extension happened at the end of the meeting following an executive session to discuss the proposed contract.

"The YouTube live-stream of our meeting did not capture the vote on Dr. Nichols' contract," said Board President Karen Schofield. "The board will simply ratify/affirm our decision at our next meeting [on May 6]."

Stoicoiu clarified that: "The vote on May 6 is merely to confirm the action taken on April 15. The action taken on April 15 still stands and is not being re-voted on. The board merely wants to confirm that action, once again, due to the technical difficulties that were experienced [with the live feed]."

Board Vice President Anthony Gomez on his Facebook page apologized that a livestream of the contract vote was not accessible to the public.

"Not providing live access to this vote is inexcusable," stated Gomez. "The board has reached out to its legal counsel and due to this fact, we will have his contract again on our May 6 agenda to affirm our prior action in front of the public."

Schofield noted the May 6 meeting will also be live-streamed on YouTube.

State official: Vote violates state law, but is not automatically invalidated

Mark Altier, director of Open Government for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, said a public body violates the state’s Open Meetings Act if it "take(s) any action or … make(s) any decisions outside of an open meeting."

Altier, however, noted that because no state agency enforces the Open Meetings Act, an improper action by a public body "is not automatically invalidated."

For a situation where technical issues prevented the public from seeing and/or hearing a public body’s action, Altier said, "revisiting the matter in open session appears to me to be the only recourse available."

Board members share thoughts on Nichols’ performance

Schofield explained why the board renewed Nichols’ contract about 15 months in advance of its expiration: "We were planning on hearing from the OFCC (Ohio Facilities Construction Commission) following their April meeting [regarding]: the state funded portion of our construction project. We knew there would be a flurry of activity as soon as we received word of approval and wanted to address the superintendent's contract so we could focus our attention on new facility planning."

On April 15, Board member Dave Martin said his vote to renew Nichols’ contract will "reflect the growth that I’ve seen in Dr. Nichols. Working now with him … it’s 180 degrees from where it was when I first came on the board."

Martin added he was "100 percent beside [Nichols] on everything [as] we go forward," and said he was looking forward to seeing the 6-12 school building project "coming to fruition."

Gomez on April 15 recalled that when he ran for election to the Board in 2017, he said he would not have voted for Nichols’ new contract "at that time."

Gomez said he now favored the contract extension because "I’ve seen immense growth in [Nichols], progress in our district and moving toward our goals, particularly in stabilizing our finances."

He added Nichols had been responsive in providing information requested by the board.

"I think his leadership has greatly improved and I have confidence in him moving forward," said Gomez. After the board’s approval, Nichols said he was "committed to continuing to grow and get better."

"I am salivating for our future …not only with the building project, but also with our curriculum and our staff," added Nichols. "Our staff is phenomenal."

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, pkeren@recordpub.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.