School system agrees to settlement with two employees

August 13, 2012|By Liz Bowie | The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore County school board Tuesday night voted to approve numerous retirements and resignations, including those of two employees who signed contracts with the former superintendent that a union official and others have questioned.

But the board did not discuss in public the fact that those two employees had negotiated a settlement and will be paid more than $150,000 total.

The Sun reported last month that Baltimore County school Superintendent Joe A. Hairston had given two top aides employment contracts that promised them severance of almost a half-million dollars if they were fired when the new superintendent chose his own leadership team.

New Superintendent Dallas Dance reassigned the two employees, Donald Peccia, who was the head of human resources, and Phyllis Reese, the communications chief. Such a move didn’t trigger the payouts.

Some lawyers interviewed by The Sun said the contracts were problematic. They had been signed by Hairston but hadn’t been approved by the school board, which has to approve expenditures over $25,000. And while the contracts didn’t specify the salary each employee earned, they committed the system to expend taxpayer dollars if they were fired.

The public learned Tuesday night that Reese and Peccia had left the school system. Three days after that, the school system released the settlement agreements to The Sun in response to a Maryland Public Information Act request, which requires governments to be open and transparent about how they spend taxpayer dollars.

Under the settlement agreements, Dance, Peccia and Reese must keep the details of the negotiations private and say only that the matter was "resolved" in response to any inquiry. So why did the public get copies of the settlement?

"Maryland law requires that government operate in a certain open way, so that law is controlling," said Lawrence Schmidt, the school board president and an attorney.

He said any agreement that the school board made had to be in accordance with the law. Since the law says that governments must disclose how they spend money, that information had to be released.

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