I’m used to being disgusted over golden parachutes in the corporate world. But when school districts use taxpayer money to hand them out, I’m outraged.

Late last month, the Star Tribune reported that St. Paul’s former superintendent of public schools, Valeria Silva, landed a new job (“Silva takes job at New York academy,” Sept. 30). Good riddance! When she was ousted from her job here in June 2016, Silva received an extravagant buyout of $787,000.

Questions abound. She was just two years short of completing her contract, so why would that entitle her to $787,000?

Why? Because her contract made the school district responsible for her entire term if she was fired without cause. Why would a school board enter into such a ridiculous agreement?

Obviously, the public schools are no longer working for the community and its students.

As part of the buyout, Silva was to meet and talk by phone with interim Superintendent John Thein in 2016-17. But why would he and the school board want her “advice and counsel” when they dumped her for not being the right person for the job? And how convenient, for her, that the advice need not be in writing. A few phone calls here and there would justify her three quarters of a million dollar buyout.

As if all this wasn’t bad enough, the school board threw in another bonus by granting Silva an extended leave of absence until October 2019. Why? So she can get her full pension benefits. She has a new job and had not been working for the school district for more than a year, but she gets to hang on for two more years to get her pension?

And, her contract called for family health insurance for life. With such shrewd negotiating on the part of the school board, they all deserve to be voted out.

About the time this story ran in the Star Tribune, the Pioneer Press reported that St. Paul teachers will push for more tax revenue for schools. And this isn’t just happening in St. Paul. Many school districts are coming with hat in hand to the public, begging for more money to educate our children. Who can deny that is a noble goal? But how much of that money is being squandered on outdated benefits and overly generous payouts?

Obviously, the school district either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that most of us ordinary folks do not get pension benefits. Period. Second, if we get laid off or fired “without cause,” we are lucky if we get any severance at all. Third, we don’t get family medical coverage paid for while we are working, let alone for life, as Silva was given.

The Pioneer Press reported that St. Paul School District teachers were paid an average of $76,682 last year, which is more than any other district in Minnesota. It is also “29% higher than the statewide average salary of $59,365.” With that kind of pay and benefits, you’d think St. Paul schools would be doing a bang-up job. If only …

Although I’ve always been a strong supporter of public education, I now find myself questioning each and every referendum that comes up. Does the school district make any attempt to control costs? Do they ever consider that the pay and benefits they give to people in their district are beyond the dreams of most citizens who are expected to cough up more money for them?

Sadly, situations like this only encourage more people to agree with Republicans that public schools are not working and that the American public deserves better.


Pamela Pommer lives in Bloomington.