School chief’s payout: $250K
Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville district seeks new superintendent
OPPENHEIM, EPHRATAH & ST. JOHNSVILLE When the embattled Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville Central School District superintendent agreed to leave her job last week, she did so with more than two years left on her contract.
According to her separation agreement released by the district Thursday, Laura Lawrence will be getting nearly every penny she was still owed under that contract — more than $250,000.
About $200,000 of that is guaranteed, whether she gets a comparable new job or not, according to the agreement.
Only about $57,000, representing the final six months of her original deal, is contingent on a new job. If she does secure a new position, the payments will stop Dec. 31, 2015. If she doesn’t, the payments will continue to the original end of her three-year contract.
Those payments are in addition to the approximately $46,000 she was paid from November to April to sit at home on paid leave, making the total payments to Lawrence to not lead the district an estimated $300,000.
Also, her departure is termed in the agreement as her retiring from the district, invoking retirement health and dental benefits at 90 percent district cost. She will continue to receive those benefits until she gets comparable coverage elsewhere.
She is not retiring for the purposes of the state retirement system, her attorney Kevin Luibrand said Thursday.
Luibrand said they value the health coverage at about $18,000 annually. Lawrence is 53 years old.
Lawrence formally stepped aside last week after a monthslong standoff between her and the school board. She was placed on paid leave by the board in a 4-3 vote in November.
That came just six months after she was appointed superintendent of the district that was the result of a merger of the St. Johnsville and Oppenheim-Ephratah districts. She was given a three-year contract with an annual salary of about $110,000. Her contract wasn’t to expire until June 2016.
The agreement for Lawrence to formally resign was approved on April 23 by the district’s Board of Education in a unanimous vote, officials said. The vote was in contrast to split 4-3 votes the board consistently had on issues concerning Lawrence’s future.
The school district budget the board will put before voters for 2014-2015 later this month totals $18.5 million. The tax levy is actually to decrease by 1 percent, according to the district’s website.
OESJ board member Neil Clark said Thursday evening that he sees the amount of the settlement as “inherited debt” from the old St. Johnsville Central School District.
He argued that Lawrence’s superintendent contract with the St. Johnsville district would have put the merged district on the hook for even more, had she not been chosen.
Clark was one of the four board members who originally voted to place Lawrence on leave.
Luibrand on Thursday evening said he was not familiar with the details of her original St. Johnsville contract. The only contract in effect since last summer has been the joint Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville document, Luibrand noted.
Clark also said that the board is looking out for what’s best for the district.
“Every member of this board is thinking about the children and constituent base in every decision we make,” Clark said.
The district has been led since January by Thomas Gallagher, who has served as acting superintendent.
After Lawrence’s resignation last week, Gallagher said it was time for the district to heal and for everyone to put aside their differences.
Clark said Thursday that the board has been speaking with Gallagher about staying on for another year as the board searches for a full-time superintendent.
He also said his preference is for an external candidate to be brought in to lead the district.
Exactly what led to Lawrence’s departure remains a mystery. The district agreed “not to disclose any of the content of Lawrence’s personnel file” to anyone without Lawrence’s consent, except where required by law. The agreement makes no reference to what, if anything, is in that file.
No formal charges were ever filed by the school district, according to Luibrand. Luibrand also has said there was never any basis for formal charges.
Lawrence’s supporters have suggested old district lines and resentments sparked the action.
The agreement requires Lawrence to make “good-faith efforts” to find a new job.
Under the agreement, “good-faith efforts” include applying for posted superintendent positions within 50 miles of her home in Mohawk, Herkimer County. That radius stretches to the east past Amsterdam.
Also, as part of the agreement, Lawrence receives a letter of recommendation from board President Susanne Sammons.
Sammons was one of the four-member majority who put Lawrence on leave in November, then gave Lawrence a deadline to accept a departure agreement three weeks ago.
This month’s school board election sees seven candidates looking for four seats. Two board members who voted to place Lawrence on leave, William Lints and Cynthia Breh, are seeking re-election. One of the three who voted against placing Lawrence on leave, Keith Handy, is up for election but is not running for another term.
The agreement even seems to include a provision that would address a shift in the board majority: Lawrence agreed not to accept employment with the district again.