When an Orchard Park school administrator retired in September, the School Board gave him more than $26,000 as a parting gift -- unbeknown to taxpayers, who footed the bill.
An agreement reached behind closed doors gave Assistant School Superintendent David A. Gorlewski that amount in exchange for his promise not to sue the district.
Gorlewski, who had been with the district for two years, was entitled under his contract to cash in 14 vacation days and five personal days for a total of $9,975.
Beyond that contractual amount, though, the School Board agreed to let him cash in 67 sick days, for an extra $26,800, according to documents obtained this week by The Buffalo News under the state's Freedom of Information Law.
School Superintendent Paul J. Grekalski worked out the agreement with Gorlewski, which was approved by the board Aug. 10. It contains a confidentiality agreement limiting comment from either man.
Grekalski deferred to a statement written by the school district's attorney, Karl W. Kristoff, indicating that retirement agreements "usually contain provisions for the conversion of accrued leave and vacation benefits."
The district also wins because it "receives the benefit of a complete release and waiver of any possible claims against it by the employee," the statement reads. However, there has been no indication that Gorlewski planned to sue the district.
In the last two years, four other high-ranking district officials have retired. Like Gorlewski, none of those contracts allowed them to cash in sick time.
Unlike Gorlewski, they received only what their contracts stipulated.
In June, former School Superintendent Charles L. Stoddart received $17,406 -- after four decades with the district, more than half of those as head of the school district.
Three assistant superintendents retired two years ago, each having worked in the district for about two decades. Richard Petrus, Joseph P. Abel and Dennis Igoe each got between $19,745 and $22,662.
The School Board met behind closed doors for about an hour the night it approved Gorlewski's retirement package. Board members say they did not have a written copy of the agreement in front of them before unanimously approving it upon returning to public session.
Some board members have said the superintendent told them that Gorlew-ski would get a total of $26,000 in his package and that they found out later the figure was actually $10,000 higher.
One board member, Michael Dillon, said he voted for the agreement only because the superintendent assured the board that the district would recoup the payout amount by leaving Gorlewski's position open for a few months.
Gorlewski made $105,000 a year.
"It was approved with the understanding that enough time would elapse for a net savings to the district," Dillon said.
Instead, the superintendent hired retired Westfield School Superintendent Margaret E. Sauer to fill in temporarily as assistant superintendent for personnel four days a week at $399 a day. The board was not notified of that move until a week after Grekalski made that decision, Dillon said.