Bhavna Sharma-Lewis

On Dec. 18 the Riverside Elementary School District 96 Board of Education made it official, voting unanimously to hire Bhavna Sharma-Lewis as its new superintendent, effective July 1, 2013.

Sharma-Lewis is the superintendent of Harrison School District 36 in far northwest suburban Wonder Lake. She will be the ninth superintendent in District 96 history and the second woman to hold the job.

At the board meeting with Sharma-Lewis were her husband and two sons, ages 11 and 9. After the school board voted to approve her contract, the meeting adjourned for a few minutes while Sharma-Lewis shook hands with school board members and received greetings from the district’s principals, other administrators as well as a few parents.

“I’m so excited and looking forward to it,” Sharma-Lewis said.

Sharma-Lewis, 44, signed a three-year contract with the district on Nov. 30, two days after District 96 issued a press release announcing its intent to hire her.

She will be paid a base salary of $160,000 in the first year of her contract, a raise from her base salary of $110,000 at her present job. Raises for the next two years will set at half the consumer price index, provided that no increase is greater than five percent or less than 1.75 percent.

The district will not provide major medical and hospitalization insurance for Sharma-Lewis, whose husband is a State Farm insurance agent. Instead, the district will pay her $20,000 in lieu of that perk. That amount will be increased annually by a percentage equal to the consumer price index for medical care in the United States. At her present job, Sharma-Lewis is paid $26,450 in lieu of health insurance.

Sharma-Lewis’s salary will be significantly less than what current District 96 superintendent Jonathan Lamberson is making.

Jonathan Lamberson, who is retiring in July, earns a base salary of $288,207.46 this year. The district also pays $21,608.21 for health and dental insurance for Lamberson.

As is customary with school administrators, the district will also pay Sharma-Lewis’s contribution to the Illinois Teacher Retirement System.

Sharma-Lewis will receive $300 a month to cover automobile and transportation expenses and other incidental expenses. She will receive 20 vacation days each year and accumulate 12 sick days a year. An additional provision of the contract calls for Sharma-Lewis to receive a one-time allocation of 30 sick days on her first day of work which, according to the contract, “shall be available for immediate use.”

That provision has become common in superintendent contracts, Sharma-Lewis said, and was recommended by her attorney. The provision provides an immediate bank of sick days that can be used if an emergency occurs early in a new superintendent’s tenure before she has accumulated sick days.

“This is a one-time grant, with no cost to the district, at the start of her employment and will disappear next year,” said District 96 school board president Mary Ellen Meindl in an email.

The contract, like all contracts for school administrators in Illinois, has goals that the new superintendent will be required to meet. An appendix to the contract sets out two goals for Sharma-Lewis. The first is that “the superintendent will provide leadership to improve student performance on standardized tests.” The second is that “the superintendent will provide leadership in strengthening the skills of all certified staff.”

Next fall Sharma-Lewis will be required evaluate this year’s test results with an emphasis on math and reading and make recommendations as to how to improve test results.

“The board feels that Dr. Sharma-Lewis is a passionate visionary leader with the wide-ranging knowledge and expertise to sustain the current commitment to academic excellence and take the district to even greater heights,” Meindl said in a press release issued by the District 96 Board of Education.

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