AUDIT: PA school board approved principal’s $200,000 buyout without knowing the actual cost

Nov 14, 2018 by

Former West York Area High School principal Janet May was forced out of a job in February, told to stay home as she continued to collect a paycheck, benefits, and other perks.

May announced she was “stepping down” in March, three days after she inked a settlement agreement with the district that would allow her to remain employed while using up 236 consecutive, unused sick, holiday and vacation days until her planned retirement in March 2019, according to the York Daily Record.

The buyout, which prevents the West York Area School District Board from discussing May’s departure, ultimately bumped her pay to a whopping $194,981, though Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale reports the school board was unaware of the cost when it approved the deal.

“It’s scary to think they didn’t actually know the cost of the buyout,” DePasquale said at a press conference on the results of an audit into the transaction.

“This is another example of why taxpayers get frustrated,” he said. “I’ve yet to find anyone who doesn’t want our public school system to work, and work well. We want every available dollar to go into the classroom.

“When any individual … is paid just under $200,000 a year and not allowed to go to work, taxpayers want answers,” DePasquale said.

He said the buyout ultimately cost the school board about $70,000 more than it expected.

“We did the math,” DePasquale said in a prepared statement. The $194,981 deal “is $167,898 more than it would have cost taxpayers if the principal had resigned or retired when they stopped reporting to school. This is taxpayer money that could pay for at least two teachers and a whole lot of books.”

The audit revealed May hasn’t reported to work since Feb. 20, and the board did not calculate or disclose the expected costs of her settlement agreement when it was approved during a public meeting.

“I am concerned that the public was not made aware of the financial impacts before the school board voted to approve it,” he said. “While the board’s action may have met the letter of the Sunshine Act, it didn’t meet the spirit of the law.

“Taxpayers deserve greater transparency when it comes to these types of big decisions.”

DePasquale said there’s nothing taxpayers can do now to cancel or reverse the settlement.

“This can’t be stopped,” he said. “Nobody broke the law. And again, I want to stress, this was not illegal.”

The West York School District released a statement about the audit that commended the school board for not breaking the law, WPMT reports.

“The School District … was particularly pleased with the Auditor General’s official confirmation that the School District fully complied with the legal requirements of the Public School Code and the Sunshine Act when it approved the ‘Agreement and General Release’ with Dr. Janet May,” the statement read.

The board’s reluctance to share the details of the principal’s departure and secret settlement deal isn’t uncommon. In school districts across the country, school boards routinely approve contracts steering millions in spending without any public scrutiny simply by refusing to release the details until after the deal is done.

It’s a practice common with union contract negotiations, and something education reform advocates have harped on for years.

DePasquale’s audit concluded with some common sense recommendations: school boards should calculate the cost of every separation agreement before approving it, and they should make the cost known to the public.

Source: AUDIT: PA school board approved principal’s $200,000 buyout without knowing the actual cost |

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