September 14, 2010

Early termination of a school superintendent's contract permitted

Early termination of a school superintendent's contract permitted
Peebles and Forestville CSD, Comm of Ed Decision 13845

A school board's approval of the early termination of its school superintendent's contract resulted in a board member filing a complaint concerning its action with the Commissioner of Education.

Forestville Central School District Superintendent J. Richard Rodriguez was under contract with the District through June 30, 1997. The contract allowed Rodriguez to resign prior to that date by giving the Board of Education at least 90 days written notice. The contract also permitted the Board and the Superintendent to terminate the Superintendent's employment at any time on such terms as they mutually agree upon in writing.

On June 5, 1996 Rodriguez learned that he had been appointed as superintendent by another district effective August 5, 1996. Rodriguez and Tina Duliba, the then Board President, discussed the District's waiving the 90-day notice requirement in exchange for Rodriguez's returning 31 unused vacation days and a pro-rata portion of a $10,000 performance award due him.

During an executive session held by the Board on June 19, 1996, the waiver plan was discussed and Rodriguez submitted his resignation. At its regular meeting on the same day Board member Richard L. Peebles introduced a motion to accept Rodriguez's resignation effective August 4, 1996. His motion was adopted by a unanimous vote.

On August 26, 1996 Peebles filed an appeal with the Commissioner of Education challenging the Board's waiver allowing the early termination of Rodriguez's contract. Peebles contended that Duliba permitted Rodriguez to violate his employment contract by allowing him to leave 45 days early. He also charged that Rodriguez's salary had been miscalculated, resulting in a $12,500 loss to the District. Peebles asked the Commissioner to remove Duliba from the Board and to order Rodriguez to reimburse the District $12,500.

On September 4, 1996 the Board adopted a resolution ratifying its June 19 executive session agreement with Rodriguez, including his surrendering vacation days and part of his performance pay in exchange for its waiving the 90-day notice requirement.

The Board responded to Peebles' claims by arguing that it and Rodriguez had mutually agreed upon the terms of his release from the contract at the June 19 executive session and any failure to record the terms of the agreement were [sic] cured when the Board ratified the agreement with a formal resolution on September 4, 1996.

The Commissioner dismissed Peebles' appeal, finding:

1. Peebles failed to satisfy his burden of establishing the facts upon which he sought relief.

2. Evidence submitted by the Board indicated that the entire Board discussed and approved the early release date and accepted Rodriguez's offer to exchange vacation days and a pro-rata portion of his performance bonus for its approving his early release from the contract.

3. Although the business office had originally miscalculated Rodriguez's salary, the error was eventually corrected and it does not appear that the District overpaid Rodriguez .

In addition, the Commissioner said that there is simply no basis for the removal of ... Duliba since there is no evidence of a willful violation or neglect of duty under [Section 306.1 of the Education] law.

Probably this situation would have been avoided had the District memorialized the decision or agreements reached by the parties during the Board's executive session at the Board's regular meeting later that day.
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