Valeria Silva’s payout to leave the St. Paul Public Schools is more than five times what other Minnesota superintendents received when they resigned, retired or were let go in the past three years.
Her nearly $800,000 payout far exceeds the amounts given to more than a dozen others, in part because a clause in her contract entitled her to full salary and benefits should the school board terminate her contract without cause. In this case, she is barely six months into a three-year deal.
Weeks after the school board approved the deal, social media is still abuzz with complaints from parents and community members who decry the amount that Silva is receiving. Some have even demanded that she return some of it, especially since the district is facing budget cuts.
The clause that ensured the payout in St. Paul is not in the contracts of similar school districts in Minnesota, but it apparently is not uncommon for large urban school districts elsewhere. It gives district leaders some protection in a job where the average is about three years, national experts say.
“It’s quite common in other big-city school districts because of the volatile nature of the job,” said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools.
Sick pay, vacation, severance
On July 15, Silva will serve her last day as the St. Paul superintendent. Her payout includes $270,000 in salary, $75,000 in accrued vacation time, $100,000 in severance and $208,000 in health insurance benefits.
By contrast, Bernadeia Johnson, the former leader of Minneapolis, resigned in early 2015 and received over $133,000 in accrued vacation, sick leave, health benefits, severance and a consulting contract.
St. Francis Superintendent Edward Saxton received $150,000 in accrued vacation time, sick leave and holiday pay in 2015 after the St. Francis school board let him go for allegedly inflating enrollment numbers to collect additional state dollars.
Mark Porter, the South Washington County School District superintendent whose contract was not renewed in 2012, received a $122,300 payout that included $37,000 in severance and $55,000 in sick days.
Of a dozen metro-area superintendents who retired, resigned or were let go, most received only accrued vacation days and sick days.
But Silva’s contract included a clause that said the school board “may terminate this agreement without cause and for any or no reason, in which event [the St. Paul Public Schools] shall pay to Silva … all accrued, unpaid salary and vacation, and in addition, a sum equal to the total compensation and fringe benefits Silva would have been paid … between the date of termination and [the end of the contract term].”
None of the large school districts in Minnesota has such a clause.
Minneapolis recently approved a contract for its new superintendent, Ed Graff, which would pay him just six months’ pay, plus any unused vacation, sick leave and health care benefits for six months if he is let go without cause.
In the Anoka-Hennepin district, the superintendent’s contract does not entitle the schools leader to extra benefits if the contract is terminated without cause.
Terms date to 2001
The clause in St. Paul predates Silva, according to the district’s attorneys. It was first introduced in a contract with then-superintendent Pat Harvey in 2001.
Joe Nathan, a senior fellow with the St. Paul-based Center for School Change and a critic of Silva’s contract, said he faults the previous board for approving a new contract when there were concerns about the district’s direction and the number of families opting out of the district.
Silva’s six-year tenure leading the state’s second-largest school district was marked by gains in graduation rates and policies aimed at improving achievement for minority students, but it was recently marred by declining enrollment and concerns about school climate after several high-profile incidents of student-on-staff violence.
Nathan said that while his main concern was not with the language of the contract, the school board should still think twice about keeping the termination clause in a contract for the next superintendent.
“It would be valuable for the board to consult with other school districts, attorneys and community members,” Nathan said.
For next superintendent
Jon Schumacher, the chairman of the St. Paul school board, said he has not given much thought to the contract of the future superintendent, focusing instead on the transition from Silva to interim Superintendent John Thein.
Still, Schumacher said that once the district starts to craft a new contract, this buyout clause is something that will get “special attention.”
Casserly, who tracks superintendents’ contracts across the U.S., said that while the school board may be tempted to get rid of the termination clause because it is receiving “community grief,” doing so could cause a problem in recruiting a superintendent.
“Prospective candidates will have seen that the board fired the predecessor for no cause,” he said. “It may give them pause about whether or not they want to take the position with no protection.”