The Buffalo School Board will pay Superintendent Pamela C. Brown more for her resignation than if the governing body had simply fired her.
Her separation agreement exceeds $238,000 and includes glowing letters of recommendation for future jobs that Brown apparently drafted herself.
Her resignation, effective immediately, was followed by the board’s unanimous appointment of high-ranking administrator Will Keresztes as interim superintendent.
Though Keresztes was not the first choice for interim superintendent by either the board majority or minority, his communication skills and thorough knowledge of the district made him a solid compromise choice for everyone.
The board voted, 7-2, Monday to approve a separation agreement that will pay Brown a year’s salary, plus a $10,000 bonus and a $2,000 consulting fee for taking phone calls from the district. She will also receive $9,167 for her unused vacation time, as required by state law.
Board members made no comments prior to casting their votes on the agreement. But board members Jason McCarthy and Carl Paladino complained bitterly about it afterward.
“It was rammed down our throats by the majority,” Paladino said.
McCarthy called the decision “fiscally irresponsible.”
Both men said Brown’s sympathetic board majority never countered Brown’s initial request to be paid her $217,500 annual salary – the same amount she would have gotten had she been terminated without cause. Neither did they object to her request for an additional $2,000 to be available “to consult by telephone” until Aug. 16.
Finally, Brown successfully negotiated a $10,000 bonus that her contract stated she should receive for her positive 2012-13 year-end evaluation. Karl Kristoff, the district’s special counsel, said that money had not been previously released for technical reasons.
Incoming board President James Sampson said he thought the agreement terms weren’t worth further debate.
“It would have dragged on,” he said, “and we couldn’t have spent our time focusing on what was going on in the schools and the transition. I thought it was in the best interests of the schools to approve this and move forward.”
Paladino said he’s most upset that Brown’s resignation agreement includes five letters of recommendation, signed by President Barbara Seals Nevergold, which speak glowingly of Brown’s “character, skills and accomplishments.”
When he questioned the letters, he said he was told directly that the letters were drafted by Brown and her lawyer.
“How ridiculous is that?” he asked.
Nevergold did not return a call to comment Monday evening.
One of the very few givebacks the board did require is the removal of a “non-disparagement clause” that would have prevented the board from making any negative comments about Brown and vice versa.
The resignation agreement still requires that the district provide one of the five pre-written letters of recommendation to any prospective employer who asks about Brown’s service. But that does not prevent district officials from providing “other truthful information in response to any follow-up inquiry,” the agreement states.
New interim Superintendent Keresztes, meanwhile, quickly stepped into his new role with words of diplomacy and assurance.
“To building administrators and teachers – you deserve a transition that does not cause distractions,” Keresztes said. “I will work hard to support you during this Regents week as you bring this year to another close. You deserve respect for your hard work and a peaceable conclusion to this school year – and you shall have it.”
But he also made several surprising announcements that would undo many plans Brown has lobbied hard for in recent months.
In his first request as district leader, he said he’d like the board to rescind its vote to close Martin Luther King School 39, which would displace more than 500 children.
Instead of converting MLK into a new Medical Campus High School, he said, he intends to prepare other acceptable options for the new high school’s relocation.
Finally, he asked the board to rescind its controversial decision to put Middle Early College in the same building as Math Science Technology Prep School.
“We are nowhere close to having the support from parents, students or teachers on any of these decisions,” he said. “In the end, we’ve missed our target.”
Keresztes had met Friday afternoon with President Nevergold, vice presidents Theresa Harris-Tigg and McCarthy, and incoming president Sampson to outline his requests.
The board must still vote on his proposals. They are slated for discussion during Wednesday’s committee meetings and could be up for approval as soon as June 25.
His appointment as interim superintendent is supposed to last until July 7, when the board holds its first regular meeting after the installation of new members and new leadership July 1.
Last week, the board talked about finalizing a job description for a longer-term interim superintendent, who would serve for one or two years. Board members argued over how those candidates would be vetted and interviewed.
Keresztes is not precluded from applying for that job.
To view Brown’s resignation agreement and Keresztes’ resume, visit the School Zone blog at www.buffalonews.com/schoolzone