$6 million doled out to Texas superintendent severance packages in past 15 months

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HISD

Texas school districts have approved $6 million in severance deals to 24 superintendents in the past 15 months, according to records obtained by The Texas Monitor.

The departing superintendents submitted resignations, agreed to separations with the local school board or announced retirements, although documents show some were placed on paid administrative leave or left under suspect circumstances.

In several cases, the payouts were more than the administrator’s annual salary. In one instance, the wife of a superintendent, a teacher in the district, was also given six months of paid leave as part of her husband’s resignation agreement.

The pay includes the last year of salary, even when the administrator quits mid-year and stops working. They also receive unused vacation, leave days, pension pay and other benefits. Some are given interim titles to hold during periods that they are paid to work — after they have handed in their keys and access cards.

Twenty of the 24 districts have current bond payments, eight of them on projects approved in the last five years. And many of the districts involved have several hundred students, with payouts that take up a sizable percentage of the district’s assets.

Severance payments made to superintendents that exceed one year of salary and benefits come out of that district’s state funding.

The average tenure of a superintendent is about six years, dipping to around 4.5 years in urban districts. They live an itinerant life, similar to athletes, and can be hard to track down. The majority of the superintendents mentioned in this story could not be reached for comment.

The position is a high pressure, political engagement that is often thankless.

“It is overwhelming, the things superintendents have to deal with now,” said Les Farmer, who served 15 years as a superintendent in three small districts in the 80s and 90s. “And people think that you have all the authority. You really don’t. You have to deal with school board members, parents, government authorities. “

In smaller districts, Farmer said the work is harder.

“They don’t have the administrative staff that they do in larger districts,” he said.

But the severance payouts have a bigger impact in smaller districts. And in districts of all sizes, leaving is often more lucrative than staying, thanks to school trustees who are eager to shed a leader who is drawing flack or acting up.

“That’s the school board that agrees to such things, and they should not be doing that,” Farmer said. “It’s unwise to take taxpayer money to buy someone off. And from a superintendent’s standpoint, you take the job, they want you to move to the district, buy a house, join the local church. But if you upset a few people, well, you have to go.”

In Brookesmith Independent School District, with an enrollment of 124 students, parting Superintendent Guy Birdwell received $194,000 to leave in October 2016 — nearly 20 percent of the district’s assets. His annual salary at the time was $97,000.

In Johnson City, Superintendent David Shanley announced his retirement before finishing his $149,547 annual contract, which extended to 2020.

Shanley got $256,727 in severance while the district, with 659 students, wrapped last school year with a nearly $1 million budget deficit.

Other cases include:

  • Delores Warnell was paid $291,591 after resigning in March 2017 from Bloomington ISD, enrollment 867. Her contract ran through 2020.
  • Steve James stepped down in June 2017 with a year left on his contract. He received $187,803 from Higgins ISD, enrollment 122.
  • Loretta Velez resigned from Spur ISD, enrollment 261, in February 2017 with over two years left on her contract. She was paid $175,228 in severance.

Districts are required to report payouts in a form to the state that includes the amount of salary paid to a parting superintendent in the final year of employment, to last day of work. The form also includes the salary and other funds owed to the superintendent.

In most cases, the departures were publicly noted as retirements or simple resignations, with no mention of the relatively lucrative severance agreements. In others, local media obtained a copy of the parting papers. However, even those aren’t always accurate.

Garland ISD Superintendent Bob Morrison left the district in January 2017 with four years left on his contractHis initial severance was reported as $448,115, according to an agreement provided to media by the Garland ISD.

Five months later, the figure became $686,225 — the total amount of salary owed, benefits, leave and vacation time, and other perks.

The payouts are often negotiated by lawyers who specialize in representing school administrators who run into ethical, legal or political trouble.

Two of the leading lawyers doing such work, Neal Adams of Adams, Lynch & Loftin in suburban Dallas, and Tony Resendez of Walsh Gallegos in San Antonio, did not respond to interview requests.

The parting agreements often include vows of silence from both sides, leaving the public wondering what exactly prompted a resignation or retirement.

Stetson Roane came into Seguin ISD in 2015 on the heels of a $173,000 payout for his predecessor, Irene Garza. Roane came along with his wife Denise, a teacher, and secured her a reported $106,000 deal.

With over two years left on his contract, he was out by March 2017 with a $256,066 payout, rolling in back pay, six months of severance and other entitlements. His wife was placed on paid administrative leave with the agreement that she would leave the district at the end of June.

Roane, though, secured something perhaps as valuable as his quarter-million dollar parachute. While no malfeasance of misbehavior is noted in the contract, Roane left the district shortly after a female colleague accused him of sexual impropriety.

Roane’s separation agreement included a clause in which the district agreed that “it will not report Roane or his resignation to the Texas Education Agency, State Board of Educator Certification, or any other state or local agency regarding the allegations investigated, and those underlying his consideration for possible sanctions before his resignation.”

It also promised that anyone filing a public records request for records regarding Roane would be resisted with an appeal to the state Attorney General.

Two individuals filed public information requests for the records, and when the AG’s office ruled many of the records were public, Roane sued the state.

“These boards sign agreements that they will not disclose information when someone leaves,” said DeEtta Culbertson, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency. “These were signed when the superintendent was hired, and they have to abide by it. Some of the time, the information comes out, though.”

In the Seguin board, allegations of sexual harassment were levied against Roane, leaving the board with a conundrum.

“I don’t know what can be done in that case,” said Barbara Effenberger, a former teacher and Seguin ISD trustee since 2012. “You want to protect people, and sometime secrecy is the only way to do it. I think we just wanted to avoid getting into court costs.”

Roane, who is now superintendent in Raymondville ISD, did not respond to an interview request. He denies the harassment accusation.

Seguin isn’t the only district making a vow of silence a part of severance agreements. David Velky left Rocksprings ISD with $176,000 and a promise from the district to “place all negative documentation related to Velky, in a separate, sealed file.” It will take a lawful order to unseal it, rather than a request from a district seeking to hire him.

The secrecy and the payouts are part of a system that has grown into big business. While corporations zealously guard their secrets and spend big to avoid legal costs that are even potentially bigger, school districts are doing the same thing.

“I got a severance like any CEO of a company,” said Leslie Vann, who left Comfort ISD with a year left on his contract. He started his education career in the 80s as a teacher, then served as a superintendent for three small districts before stepping away in July.

“Over the years, the job has evolved into someone very corporate,” said Vann, who now sells real estate. “That’s never been my nature.”

Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected].

53 COMMENTS

  1. All this essentially began by busing our children in the sixties. This action was designed to perpetuate class warfare. Inner city slums were created by government interference with natural economic evolution. Another case of the cure will kill You metaphor. Land developers partnered with mortgage debt industry at work taking your money. Populations migrate for the benefit of their jobs and children. If they are not rooted by tax destitution.

  2. Seriously? And these schools are whining about money? LIBERALS…who are the vast majority of superintendents wouldn’t know a balanced budget if it danced on their liberal faces

    • School superintendents (at least in Texas) by law have to develop a balanced budget every year. These same superintendents are hired by your local board. They have a variety of political stances. You’re just using un unrelated social media post to score one for your “team.” Most reasonable people take issues individually, not identifying wholly with liberals or conservatives who are two different sides of the same moronic coin. Smart people think for themselves and don’t need to identify with a team.

  3. This is so wrong…give them the same thing you would give a janitor you fired for not doing his or her job and be done with it. No more big contracts all jobs should be based on results….

  4. You want to know why teachers don’t get paid enough, look at the superintendents’ pay grade. We have three separate school districts within 5 miles of each other, three superintendents, multiple assistant superintendents, secretaries for each, secretaries for the secretaries, and each school has a state of the art sports venue. One district spent more than $50 million on a new high school while losing an average 100 students per year to the other two districts. That’s where your teacher salaries are going. Meantime, kids learn a test & get confused about what sex they are.

    • So what you’re saying is keep paying all these leeches exorbitant salaries? You must be an administrator. FYI, consolidation is not an option here, because it involves the “C” word–Cooperation. Not gonna happen. Meantime, our taxes are higher than all surrounding counties.

  5. Lake Jackson police chief kept quiet about a crooked cop that transferred to West Columbia … setting people up with stolen drugs from the evidence rooms … in both cities.

    2007-2008 … had to release prisoners that he had arrested.

    Look it up.

  6. Just keep in mind the school boards are elected by the public. When these elected officials support such crap then run them out of office. If the only deal the board can make for a superintendent is a secret deal, then make no deal. This starts we everyone by the choice they make at the ballot box.

  7. Money that could have given teacher’s raises, or student programs, building maintenance, school buses etc.. Why are they so generous with taxpayer money???

  8. This is shameful. Throughout the ten-year battle we waged with a Texas ISD, we learned a whole lot about how administrators (once a school teacher,) denies their teachers, misuses teachers, and uses their teachers to enrich their personal coffers.
    School board members serve their superintendents without their taxpayers being aware of how badly they are being used. The story is sad. District was fined near 8,000.00; public donated funds diverted to a private scholarship fund of the superintendent. Scholarships applications channeled to related students not any interested and qualified student. Falsified info on application from an A.D./coach coupled with lack of background check wasted two years of athletes chances fir scholarship offers. Plus offers never given to the student athlete. So much wasted tax money by irresponsible school trustees.

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