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February 21, 2013

Milton to receive nearly $178,000 settlement

Molly Beck

The Springfield School District will pay outgoing School Superintendent Walter Milton $177,797 under a separation agreement obtained by The State Journal-Register. Milton's resignation takes effect March 31, according to the agreement.

The 16-page agreement, signed by Milton Jan. 31, was released to The State Journal-Register Tuesday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The school district also will continue to pay for Milton's health and dental insurance until May 31, 2014 unless Milton finds a new job that provides similar benefits, according to the agreement. Milton will receive Illinois Teachers Retirement System credit for about 56 days of unused sick time.

The document says Milton sought the agreement in order to be able to pursue other positions. Milton said at Monday's school board meeting he decided to search for a new job after being denied a contract extension several months ago, and after realizing that he and the board have "fundamental policy disagreements." "I would have loved to have had the opportunity to fulfill the school year," Milton said Tuesday. "I was honored to serve. I love Springfield public schools."

Resignation, reference language

Once Milton resigns, the agreement says, a Sept. 28 letter from school board president Susan White will be removed from Milton's personnel file, as well as his response. The nature of the letter was not disclosed. The State Journal-Register filed FOIA requests for those letters Tuesday.

White would not comment on whether Milton's settlement -- to be paid in two installments by May 1 -- was taken into consideration when the school board determined budget reductions for next year. Along with a non-disparagement clause, the agreement outlines language to be used in response to inquiries, and it includes Milton's resignation letter and a recommendation letter to be sent when the school board is asked to provide a reference for Milton.

That recommendation letter matches an emailed statement that White sent Feb. 4 to a reporter in Madison, Wis. and to The State Journal-Register. That letter indicated Milton would end his employment with the district March 31. At the time, White said the date was a typographical error. The email prompted The State Journal-Register to submit a series of Freedom of Information Act requests regarding Milton's employment status.

Johnson: Resignation 'coerced'

The agreement is signed by six of the seven school board members, all except Judy Johnson. "No, I won't sign it," Johnson said Tuesday. "I don't agree with the action the board has taken. I don't think it's fair. To me, it's forced and coerced. Dr. Milton has done a good job."

A statement to media and district employees, slated for release March 11, also is included in the agreement. The agreement, which stipulates that the statement would be the only comment made by the board and Milton to media and employees regarding the separation agreement, apparently explains board members' recent silence on the matter.

The agreement also allows the board to search for candidates to become interim superintendent without notifying the public. White said the details of the negotiations needed to be confidential because they involved a personnel matter.

"In my opinion, there's nothing about the way this negotiation has been handled that is inappropriate," White said. White said she is frustrated that the word "secret" is being used to describe the private deliberations during which board members and Milton agreed to the separation agreement.

"This negotiation was no more secret than any other personnel matter the board considers in executive session," White said. "There are reasons, and I think public policy reasons, why employment and bargaining matters take place in private. ... There's a privacy component that employees are entitled to." White said any steps to accept Milton's resignation or hire an interim superintendent will be done in public.

Even though the details of the separation agreement have been released, and though Milton has made public statements, White said board members are still bound by the confidentiality agreement and cannot comment on much, including the timing of Milton's planned departure.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at February 21, 2013 6:36 PM
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