Baltimore County school leaders have paid a total of $150,989 in a settlement with two high-ranking employees who signed contracts with the former superintendent, even though the school system and new superintendent contend that the contracts were not legal.
The two employees, who left voluntarily, had signed contracts with former Superintendent Joe A. Hairston before he retired that would have triggered payments of nearly a half-million dollars if his successor fired them. The county school administrators union criticized the agreements, and some experts questioned whether they were valid.
Dallas Dance, the new superintendent, sought to replace those employees when he took over in July, advertising to fill their jobs and reassigning them. Later, he and the school system reached a settlement in which they assert that the contracts were "null and void and contrary to Maryland law." Nonetheless, they agreed to pay the employees as part of that settlement.
School board President Lawrence Schmidt said the school system agreed to the payout to avoid litigation. Baltimore County's schools "entered into the agreement to avoid the expense of litigation and the risk inherent in any litigation, and to bring closure to the issues surrounding the alleged contracts with these individuals," Schmidt said in an interview.
No other school administrators have similar contracts, school officials said. Dance has said he would propose a standard contract with administrators
The two employees with the special contracts were Donald Peccia, who served as the assistant superintendent of human resources, and Phyllis Reese, the chief communications officer.
Tonya Bana, the attorney for Peccia and Reese, declined to discuss the details of the agreement Friday.
The settlement gives the two employees six months of their salary and health benefits for a year. Peccia received $79,714.50, and Reese got $71,274.50. It also states that the school system would release their last formal evaluation to prospective employers. Both employees agreed not to pursue any legal claims against the school system.
The agreement also states that settlement details are to be confidential and that Peccia, Reese and Dance would make a "mutually acceptable" public statement making clear that the two employees were not let go because of poor performance but because of Dance's right to select his leadership team.
Dance declined to be interviewed, but the system released a statement saying that the two employees' "separations from the school system were not the result of any performance-related considerations and are in no way a reflection on their capabilities or prior record of service."
The settlement was released by the school system Friday, one week after The Baltimore Sun filed a public information act request seeking the documents. The school board voted in public session Tuesday night to accept Peccia's retirement and Reese's resignation as part of a large number of other personnel moves.
The details of the settlement were not discussed or voted on by the board in public. The board was provided with a copy of the agreement on Tuesday before the meeting, according to Schmidt. He said he believes that when the board approved the resignation and retirement, it was also approving the settlement.
The contracts, dated July 2011, stipulated the superintendent may not terminate the employees for anything other than gross misconduct. If the superintendent did break the agreement, the school system would have been required to pay out the remainder of their contracts. Peccia earned $158,652 a year and had two more years on his contract; Reese earned $142,549 and had one more year.
The contracts also protected the two employees in case of layoffs, ensuring that they would continue to receive full salaries and benefits for the length of their contracts.
Dance transferred Peccia to Woodlawn High School, where he was to teach social studies. Reese was assigned to become a "distribution, copy and print specialist."
Hairston has declined to discuss the issue, referring questions to the school system.
Hairston signed the contracts on behalf of the county school board but did not take them to the school board for a vote. Typically, expenditures over $25,000 must be approved by the board. The two contracts did not specify the specific dollar amounts Peccia and Reese were to be paid.
Schmidt said last month that if either employee claimed the contracts were valid, he would refer the matter to legal counsel because of the circumstances in which the contracts were done.
The school board routinely votes on all appointments to administrative positions, and it approved Peccia and Reese when they were originally hired. Peccia was hired in October 2004, and Reese was hired in November 2009.
The contracts were atypical for two reasons. School systems generally do not give multiyear contracts to employees other than the superintendent because top administrators work at the pleasure of the superintendent, according to those familiar with school system contracts. Experts also said that contracts usually specify salary, and the agreements with Peccia and Reese did not.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun