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Burnsville schools give HR chief $255,000 to go away

  • Article by: HERÓN MÁRQUEZ ESTRADA
  • Star Tribune
  • February 22, 2012 - 12:02 AM

Just seven months after signing a new contract, Burnsville school district's human resources director has been paid an unusually large severance of more than $250,000 to leave.

No one at the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District would comment Tuesday about Tania Z. Chance's sudden reversal of fortune, her January resignation, or what prompted the district to essentially pay her to stay home for the last 18 months of her contract.

The settlement is one of the largest in recent memory for a Minnesota school administrator, especially a non-superintendent.

"That sure sounds like a significant amount of dollars," said Gary Amoroso, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators. "It would be a dollar amount that's higher than what we've seen" in recent years.

Chance, who worked for the district only 18 months, did not return phone calls or an e-mail seeking comment Tuesday. District officials said she wasn't disciplined during her tenure and is not the subject of any formal complaints.

Portions of the separation agreement provided by the school district were redacted. School board chairman Ron Hill said those portions contained private personnel data that could not be disclosed or described. Hill acknowledged the state's Data Practices Act pertaining to separation agreements calls for making public the reasons for such an agreement but said "from our perspective, the separation agreement complies" with that law.

As part of her severance package, Chance agreed to dismiss any claims against the district regarding human rights violations, equal employment issues, age discrimination or civil rights complaints.

"When you have a situation like this, you try to come to an agreement that allows both sides to move forward," Amoroso said.

The nearly $255,000 severance package for Chance, who resigned in January, is equivalent to her $136,273 annual salary, sick leave, vacation time, insurance and other benefits for the next 18 months, according to the agreement.

The settlement was unanimously approved by the school board late last month. Such settlements, including some that have sparked public outrage the past few years in Minnesota, have rarely been above $200,000.

"I think it's unusual. ... Is it excessive? I don't know," said Ken Dragseth, a former Edina superintendent and partner at a search firm that handles superintendent and administrative hires. "This doesn't happen every day."

In September, Eden Prairie Superintendent Melissa Krull was given $100,000 to leave nine months early. Earlier in the year, Amoroso, then superintendent in Lakeville, was the focus of a controversy over a $361,000 severance package that was due him.

The biggest non-superintendent settlement seems to involve an Edina teacher who received $100,000 after being pulled from class in 2009.

Apart from the severance payment, the Burnsville settlement includes a provision that the district will provide two letters of recommendation for Chance to any future employer.

The agreement makes it clear Chance was not fired, but it appears she stirred controversy from the start.

Chance, a self-published author, posted a YouTube video some considered in poor taste because it appeared to show Chance pouring several shots of liquor and downing the drinks very quickly.

Hill acknowledged several employees approached board members about the video, asking that Chance be ordered to take it down.

"I saw it and was just shaking my head," said Darren Byrnes, former webmaster for the district who clashed with Chance and whose job was eliminated shortly after she was hired in July 2010. "It just seemed really out there. She's supposed to be representing the district and she was out there doing shots."

Hill, citing the separation agreement, said he could not comment on the appropriateness of the video, but said the video was produced on Chance's off-duty time and was posted before she was hired.

Libby Duethman, president of the Burnsville teachers union, said she also heard teachers comment about the video.

"It was common knowledge around the district. A lot of people were talking about it," Duethman said. "Probably, teachers looked at it and said, 'What would happen to me if I did that? Is there a double standard?' There definitely was feedback on her. ... Overall, it was probably negative."

The departure comes with 18 months still to go on the contract. It also comes amid difficult contract negotiations with teachers, one of her main job duties.

Burnsville is the biggest district in Dakota County without a contract.

Duethman said that, in part, is because some negotiating sessions were delayed or canceled over personnel issues on the district's negotiating team.

"I don't know if that was related to her" pending departure or not, Duethman said.

She does not believe the $254,814 going to Chance will affect whatever offer the district eventually presents to teachers.

Asked what she thought of the severance payment, all Duethman would say is "that's a nice amount of money."

Heron Marquez • 952-746-3281

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