County leaders criticize $271,000 severance settlement for Grotsky Harford award includes pay for unused sick time, remaining vacation days

March 20, 1998|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Harford County's school board has agreed to pay more than $271,000 in a settlement to end the contract of school Superintendent Jeffery N. Grotsky -- a deal that triggered criticism yesterday from the county executive and other local officials.

School officials said yesterday that the settlement includes his annual salary of $107,100 for the remaining two years of his contract, $46,000 of unused sick leave, $7,775 for remaining vacation time, $520 a month in health insurance payments until August and a $375-a-month car allowance until June 8.

Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann -- who was not involved in the financial negotiations to end Grotsky's tenure -- expressed concern about the amount of the payment.

"I support the board's actions on making a change but it certainly appears to be a good deal for the superintendent and a bad deal for the taxpayers," she said. "I would have negotiated a better bottom-line deal."

Sick, vacation time

Several county officials also questioned why Grotsky, a brusque school chief who sometimes had clashed with the school board, would receive so much in unused sick and vacation time as part of his severance package.

"I find that amazing. That's an incredible part of the negotiations," said County Council President Joanne S. Parrott. "I wish the end result of the final negotiations was less. But I think the handwriting was on the wall that it needed to be done.

School board President Geoffrey R. Close said the board was legally bound by the contract it signed with Grotsky, who came to Harford County in July 1996 and leaves office today.

'It's required by law'

"Nobody likes this. Everyone is concerned," Close said. "It's required by law. Forty-six-thousand dollars is a big thing. We didn't want to do it."

The money will come from the school system's operating budget and will be paid over one year, he said.

"It would automatically be there," Close said of the payments to the former superintendent, who will stay on as a consultant to the school system until June. "Fortunately, it's spread out."

Other area school officials have received big settlements in recent years.

The Baltimore County school board paid $300,000 in 1995 to divorce itself from then-Superintendent Stuart L. Berger, whose xTC three-year term was marked by friction and controversy.

In another high-profile buyout, the board of the Community Colleges of Baltimore County agreed to pay $165,000 to Daniel J. LaVista, who was ousted as chancellor in January 1997 over "irreconcilable differences." He had served two years of a four-year contract.

Gary Marx, a spokesman for the American Association of School Administrators, said dismissals of school superintendents in midterm are "unusual."

'It happens occasionally'

"It's unfortunate. But it certainly happens occasionally," he said, adding that the average tenure of superintendents nationwide is 6.2 years.

William Middleton, superintendent of Wicomico County schools and president of the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland, said the decision to spend precious school dollars on such severance settlements is a difficult one.

"It's a call only a local board can make," he said. "As stingy as most boards are, any board would think long and hard about it. If that is the decision they made, they did it for a reason."

Many say Grotsky tried to wield too much power and shook up the 38,519-student system by reorganizing his staff -- forcing some to retire and others to reapply for their jobs -- and by creating programs such as one that required administrators to fill in as substitute teachers.

Grotsky was hired in Harford after serving as the head of the 26,500-student system in Grand Rapids, Mich., where he received an unsatisfactory evaluation from the nine-member school board, which noted his control-oriented management style.

Jackie Haas -- a longtime Harford County educator who became an assistant superintendent for educational services in July -- will serve as interim school chief until June 30.

Haas, who receives $72,400 a year in her current position, will get an additional $2,000 a month for assuming the top spot.

Pub Date: 3/20/98

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