School releases two settlement agreements, withholds one

Mon, 2015-07-27

Acton Forum asked the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District (ABRSD) for copies of all “settlement agreements” it had signed with current or former school employees that exceeded $10,000 in value from 2010 to the present. We were told that there were three such agreements.

Two agreements were released to the Forum, those for former Junior High Principal Craig Hardimon, and former Director of Technology Steven Hall. Copies of the agreements are available as links below.

The third agreement, with former Director of Pupil Services Liza Huber, was withheld in its entirety, citing a confidentiality clause. This is contrary to a recent court ruling that held that all such contracts were public matters, including the value of any payments or benefits and the name of the employee who had reached the agreement.

Superintendent Glenn Brand said that the Huber settlement would only be released upon the order of the Secretary of State's office.

Both Hardimon and Hall were given settlement payments in addition to monies they were owed under the terms of their employment contract (i.e., for unused vacation pay.) The copies of both contracts that we received included significant redactions. Redactions are allowed under state law to protect some personal information.

Hardimon’s agreement, signed by former Superintendent Stephen Mills and dated January 11, 2012, agreed to pay Hardimon an “early retirement incentive” of $30,000 by July 15, 2012, “in a lump sum amount.” In addition, Hardimon would be paid up to another $15,000 if he didn’t find employment for the next school year or if his salary over that next year was less than his AB salary. According to a note from Superintendent Brand, ABRSD paid Hardimon an additional $4,426 because he received a lower salary in his new position. The total paid to Hardimon was $38,918, which included accrued unused vacation time. There were no other benefits or payments beyond salary in the redacted sections or otherwise according to a note from Brand. See the Hardimon settlement agreement here: http://actonforum.com/sites/default/files/Hardimon_settlement.pdf

According to the Metrowest Daily News, Hardimon has since left his job as Marlboro High School principal and is becoming the Director of Human Resources for the Watertown Public Schools. (See http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/article/20150210/News/150219882)

Hall’s contract, signed in the spring of 2011 by Mills, paid Hall $25,996, “in resolution of Mr. Hall’ [sic] claims arising from connection with the termination of his employment.” Provision (3) of the Hall agreement was a “Confidentiality and Non-Disparagement” provision that appeared to bind both parties. Such contract provisions, which prevent former employees from discussing any issues they had with their public employer, have been questioned by the Attorney General’s office, especially when it kept secret potential wrongdoing by the state. In an email to Acton Forum, Superintendent Glenn Brand said that Hall’s total check was $51,992 which included accrued, unused vacation time. There were no other payments or benefits in the redacted sections or otherwise according to a note from Brand. See the Hall settlement agreement here: http://actonforum.com/sites/default/files/Hall_settlement.pdf

Ms. Huber apparently left the school system in September, 2014, but was paid her full salary through June 30, 2015. Her annual salary was approximately $125,000 per year, plus any benefits she was given. Acton Forum had received two paystubs indicating the payment amounts but the benefit deductions were redacted. We have appealed the redactions to the Public Records Supervisor.

Acton Forum has also requested copies of all correspondence of the School Committee and school administration related to Huber’s departure. So far, no documents have been produced, despite a direct order by the Public Records Supervisor to do so. Instead, the School insisted that Acton Forum editors Allen Nitschelm and Charlie Kadlec first pay a $245 fee to produce the documents, which we did in June. We expect to receive responsive documents plus an index for any documents withheld shortly. When we do, we will appeal the withheld Huber settlement agreement along with any other documents to the Secretary of State's office.

Documents are presumed to be public unless they fall under a particular exemption allowed under state law. The School asserted that all Huber documents were exempt, as they concerned matters of "personal," "personnel, or “attorney-client privilege.” The School also refused to release the minutes of an Executive Session meeting held in October, 2014 for similar reasons. That refusal has been appealed to the Attorney General’s office, which oversees the Open Meeting Law.

The nearly $39,000 and $52,000 payments to Hardimon and Hall as part of their settlement agreements are significant but appear to be dwarfed by the Huber arrangement, which Acton Forum estimates to have possibly cost at least $100,000, for about 10 months of being paid salary, and possibly benefits, for not working. Huber’s absence has been described as being “on leave” and her replacement has been described as “Acting” or “Interim” Director of Pupil Services. Huber’s name as an administrator was taken off the school website entirely, only to reappear weeks later with her regular title. Questions to the Superintendent about whether Huber has even been at work or what her duties are have not been answered.

The School has spent over $15,000 just on legal fees so far to attempt to hide the Huber documents and Executive Session minutes from public view.

School administrators have individual employment contracts which include very generous benefits such as five weeks of vacation plus sick pay, 75% of health insurance premiums paid by the School and a retirement plan unmatched in the private sector. The contracts are typically for three years, extending each year for another year unless cancelled, in which case the employee gets to work for another two years (which has obvious problems), leaves voluntarily or is “bought out.” This expensive arrangement needs to be reviewed by the School Committee.

FOR THE NEXT ARTICLE IN THIS SERIES, SEE: http://www.actonforum.com/story/meet-actons-highest-paid-employee

For the last Acton Forum article on this topic, click: http://www.actonforum.com/story/school-ordered-provide-executive-session...

Subscribe to the Acton Forum and get our newsletters emailed to you -- FREE! Click on http://www.actonforum.com/subscribe-actonforum-newsletter