Comments on MMSD’s Buyout of East High Principal

Last spring four Board members �Carol Carstensen, Bill Clingan, Bill Keys and Juan Lopez�voted to authorize the superintendent to buyout problem employees and pay them up to five months in wages and benefits. Members Ray Allen, Shwaw Vang and I voted no. The decision was retroactive to cover deals with two teachers that the superintendent had already made.
Now we see the results of this bad policy decision,

as the Board finds that its role in buying out the former principal of East High School is limited to approving her resignation tonight, effective March 31, 2005. Her wages and most fringe benefits end on March 31, but her eligibility for district-paid health insurance continues through April 2005. In total, she receives at least six months of compensation.
One reason to vote no on the resignation is that the period of wages and benefits clearly exceeds the spirit of the policy.
Another reason to vote no is that the superintendent will fund the buyout with dollars not used for the wages and benefits of a Fine Arts Coordinator, an important position that remains unfilled. Recently we learned that a super-majority of the Board—5 members– is necessary every time that the superintendent moves funds from one department to another. This buyout moves at least $37,000 from one department to another. No Board vote occurred on this transfer before the superintendent signed the agreement on November 29.
Reason Number 3 is that the superintendent hired outside counsel—an expensive attorney from a Milwaukee firm�to advise him on the deal. Never mind that the District has six attorneys on its payroll, all of whom are qualified to represent the district on employment termination agreements. This action�also not approved by the Board— is an abuse of the superintendent�s discretion to purchase services for the district. This purchase of private counsel has not been explained. Nor does the Board know why the superintendent chose to exclude the Board�s attorney from the negotiation process.
Overall, this buyout has the appearance of the cover-up. The superintendent has sole discretion to reassign a problem employee in emergency circumstances. However, the employee has a right to a due process hearing on the reassignment, with legal counsel, the right to call witnesses, the right to cross-examine the district�s witnesses and other protections. The reassigned employee may request— as did this employee– a hearing before a private hearing examiner, as we routinely provide in expulsion hearings. The purpose of this hearing process is to safeguard the interests of the reassigned employee and of the district. In a hearing we would see the reassignment from both perspectives, whether we heard the case ourselves or assigned it to an outside examiner.
In extreme situations, I can understand that both parties might decide that a buyout is preferable to an adversarial hearing. But in those situations it is critical that the superintendent not be able to keep the whole process from the Board. We are the party to this buyout, not the superintendent as an individual. He is our employee and accountable to us for the judgment to reassign this employee and for how the reassignment process was carried out.
As the elected representatives of the public— as we vote tonight— the Board does not know whether there were good reasons for the buyout or not. We do not know whether our superintendent and assistant superintendent properly followed reassignment procedures or not. We do not know why our staff attorneys were considered not good enough for the job. We have no way, in short, to assure that the superintendent has negotiated a buyout in the best interests of the district or in his own interests. We just don�t know.
We have the bill for the outside attorney. We may eventually vote on which departmental funds are used in the buyout. We should not rubber-stamp this resignation. We should get answers to these and other important questions before we again retroactively approve a buyout by the superintendent.
Above all�however this vote goes—the majority should reconsider the policy that let this situation develop. It delegates major responsibilities of this elected body to one employee and such excessive delegation leads to abuse or at least the appearance of abuse of discretion.
Comments at the December 6, 2005 meeting of the Madison School Board. The Board voted 5-2 to accept the resignation of the principal. Voting yes were Carol Carstensen, Bill Clingan, Bill Keys, Juan Lopez,
Ruth Robarts and Johnny Winston, Jr. Shwaw Vang and I voted no.
Member, Madison Board of Education, 1997 to present