The St. Paul school board made official Tuesday night that Valeria Silva’s tenure atop the state’s second-largest district will end July 15.
The deal comes at a hefty price to the district: $787,500.
She will be replaced on an interim basis by retired Roseville Area Schools Superintendent John Thein. A search for a permanent successor has not begun.
Talks aimed at transitioning Silva out of the district’s top job — she will stay on as a consultant for 15 months — have been in the works for more than a month, said board Chairman Jon Schumacher, who was among four new board members swept into office in January as part of a Caucus for Change movement critical of district leadership.
In the past year, school-climate concerns took on a new dimension with several high-profile incidents of student-on-staff violence. But Schumacher refrained on Tuesday from directly associating Silva with the district’s current troubles, which also include declining enrollment and budget pressures.
Still, Jean O’Connell, a former board chairwoman, accused Schumacher and others of working secretly to force Silva out.
“The environment at this table has become so disrespectful, destructive and cynical that I can no longer be a part of it,” said O’Connell, who announced she was resigning, effective June 30.
Schumacher said that he disagreed with O’Connell’s comments, but was willing to let her have her say.
For Silva, who was at district headquarters earlier in the day but did not attend the meeting, the departure as schools chief follows a remarkable rise — both personally and professionally. She arrived in Minnesota nearly 32 years ago as a visitor from Chile. In St. Paul, she worked her way from teacher to principal to administrator to superintendent, and built a national reputation as a leader in the area of English language learning.
The separation agreement approved Tuesday was expected to be costly, given that Silva was barely six months into a new three-year deal that was to pay her a $213,026 salary plus $11,000 in longevity pay in recognition of her 29 years with the district.
As part of her new role as a full-time “special consultant,” she will be paid $106,513 through the end of the year and $162,965 for the first nine months of 2017.
She also is to receive $100,000 in severance pay, plus pension and health insurance contributions of $103,500 and $208,320, under the agreement approved Tuesday.
Earlier this year, Silva said that the current contract would be her last, and noted that by staying through December 2018, she would reach the “Rule of 90” qualifying her for full pension benefits. Schumacher said Tuesday that Silva’s stated intent to leave figured into his thinking that the board should plan for a transition to new leadership.
Board member Steve Marchese said the deal, “as expensive as it is,” was best for the district in the long term.
Board Member Chue Vue defended last year’s decision to extend Silva’s contract, saying: “We knew the superintendent the best.”
The board’s decision on Silva came as it took action on district budget and enrollment woes.
In a surprise, the board voted, 4-3, to save Galtier Community School from possible closure in June 2017.
Galtier, formerly a citywide magnet school before it became a neighborhood school under Silva’s Strong Schools, Strong Communities reorganization, has seen declining enrollment. Last month, Silva recommended closing it, urging the neighborhood to rally behind a strong community school at nearby Hamline Elementary.
Parents fought for Galtier, and on Tuesday, as board members announced their votes, cheers broke out when Vue broke a 3-3 tie.
The board also took final action to close a projected $15.1 million budget gap — capping an arduous two-month process that found the district pressured by a No Cuts To Kids group fighting to preserve art, music, language and other K-8 programming.
A projected hit to electives and other classroom cuts eventually was pared from $7.5 million to $2.4 million.
The group lauded the board’s efforts to restore funding to schools in the amount of $85 per pupil, but said that the money should not have been allocated across the board but targeted to schools with the greatest needs.
They also said the reduction of art and music programming was a disservice to low-income kids.
“This is not a frill,” said Joe Nathan, a group member and a senior fellow with the St. Paul-based Center for School Change. “This is a necessity.”