Feb. 24: Contract that led to $255,000 buyout in Burnsville wasn’t needed
- Article by: HERÓN MÁRQUEZ ESTRADA
- Star Tribune
- February 23, 2012 - 11:38 PM
Even before Tania Chance was given a new two-year contract, some people were wary about the move, which ultimately cost the Burnsville school district about $255,000.
"I questioned it," said Libby Duethman, president of the Burnsville teachers union. "We experienced some [difficulty] in our first year working with her and ... some concerns. I asked why they had to offer her a two-year contract."
The school board was under no obligation to give its human resources director a contract, as she is not a licensed employee and under state law is not required to have one.
Nevertheless, the school board voted 6-1 last summer to grant the contract. Six months later, the two sides agreed to a $254,814 buyout in one of the largest separation agreements on record for a school administrator in the state.
The district has refused to discuss the reason for her departure or to explain why it agreed to the settlement, other than to say that both sides wanted to end their employment relationship and that the agreement absolves the district of any claims Chance might bring. Officials say the terms of the agreement prohibit them from saying more. Chance has not returned phone calls or e-mails.
If the board had decided differently about giving Chance a contract, the district might have avoided paying her more than a quarter of a million dollars to, in effect, skip school for the next 18 months.
"Depending on the terms of employment, you might be able to release an employee without any [financial] liability," said Gary Amoroso, Lakeville's ex-superintendent and now executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators.
The Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District hired Chance in 2010. Almost from the start, she proved controversial, helping to eliminate numerous jobs while also gaining notoriety for a YouTube video of her working out and, apparently, drinking several shots of liquor very quickly. It was a promotional video for her self-published book.
"Like everybody, I have a drink every once in a while," said Brian Howland, one of many district residents upset by the settlement, "but I wouldn't display it on the Internet. You see that and you sort of go, 'Oh, my goodness.'"
The video, the costly separation agreement and the district's refusal to disclose why Chance left the district have sparked anger.
"I am not a confrontational person, so if I am upset by [the buyout], then other people must be," said Jane Kalal, president of the Parent-Teacher Organization at Gideon Pond Elementary School in Burnsville. "Parents and taxpayers, what we're looking for is accountability and full disclosure of Ms. Chance's separation agreement. I want the truth to come out."
On Thursday, the district posted a statement on its website about the payout, although still failing to explain why it was necessary. "Board members understand that every dollar of taxpayer money is critically important ...," the statement read. "Consequently, the business decision ... to approve this separation agreement was viewed as a difficult, yet necessary, step to allow the district to move forward."
Ron Hill, chairman of the school board, reiterated that school officials will listen to anything anyone has to say at the next board meeting.
"We're watching everybody's concerns," Hill said Thursday. "I know it's difficult to understand, but the information we got out there is what we can put out."
Hill was among the board members who voted last summer to grant Chance a new contract, even after being informed it was not necessary.
"We're not doing anything different here in offering employment contracts," Hill said. "All across the metropolitan area [administrators] are all being offered contracts." Amoroso agreed, pointing out that it's standard for school administrators to have contracts.
But even some of the school board members who eventually approved her $136,000 annual contract wondered if it was the right thing to do, especially because it was unnecessarily committing the district to Chance financially.
"It's my belief that an employment contract locks us in more tightly," said board member Jim Schmid, expressing hesitation at the meeting on June 16, 2011, in which Chance's contract was approved. He proposed that the board look into its policy of granting contracts to non-licensed employees.
Other board members asked about holding off on a decision to see if there would be any legal ramifications from awarding a contract to an employee when none was required.
"It's important that we're well aware of everything that's in these contracts," board treasurer Paula Teiken said then. "I would [rather] err on the side of conservatism and have legal counsel review it."
Heron Marquez • 952-746-3281
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