The $787,500 price tag gave him pause, but from his St. Paul City Hall office, Dan Bostrom said the deal allowing the St. Paul school board to part ways with Valeria Silva as superintendent was one it had to make.
“Sometimes the most difficult situations require the most drastic responses,” said the veteran City Council member and one-time school board member.
Down the hall, Mayor Chris Coleman, a longtime Silva supporter, declined to speak to the size of the agreement. When board members told him recently that the move to buy out Silva was in the best long-term interest of the district, Coleman said he replied: “Time will tell.”
Hours after announcing a deal had been reached calling for Silva to step down on July 15, board Chairman Jon Schumacher was back at district headquarters Wednesday to introduce her interim replacement, John Thein, at a morning news conference.
Social media buzzed over the size of the agreement. But to those weighing expressions of outrage, Gary Amoroso, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, advised: Stop and consider the facts.
He acknowledges the buyout package is the largest he’s seen in his five years leading the group. But Amoroso said it is unusual, too, to have been negotiated just six months into a new three-year contract with Silva. The school board, Amoroso said, has every right to move in a new direction. Silva, too, has a right to receive the value of a contract that both sides negotiated in good faith, he added.
Amoroso is aware of the negative views that people can have about the back side of superintendent pay packages. As he was leaving his job as Lakeville’s schools chief for his new role at the state association, residents there learned he was eligible for a severance package that could total $361,000. Bad timing. The district had just approved $15.8 million in cuts that included closing a school. Signs began to appear around the district, one of which read: “Give it back Gary. Our kids are counting on you.”
Bostrom faults the previous school board for agreeing a year ago to grant Silva a three-year extension when signs were that the board was about to be upended by challengers critical of Silva and other leaders. The teachable moment, he said, is that if things are volatile, you wait — “and, if you don’t, these are the consequences.”
He was part of a group that openly advocated this year for the school board to oust Silva and her cabinet, in part over differing views on dealing with a series of high-profile incidents involving violence in the schools.
“Somewhere along the way they have to get their arms around the behavior issues,” Bostrom said Wednesday. “It’s the kind of thing that drives parents out of the St. Paul Public Schools system. They’re just not willing to put their kids through this stuff.”
Coleman said that a school board should ask a superintendent what he or she needs to succeed, and in his view, the current board did not pose that question often enough.
Thein never envisioned leading a school district again after retiring a year ago after 27 years as Roseville Area Schools chief. But now that he’s taking over as St. Paul’s interim superintendent, he has no intention of being just a seat warmer, either.
“I would not be here to just hold down a chair,” he told reporters Wednesday.
Thein stood alongside Schumacher, who praised him for his “experience, expertise, integrity and a commitment to excellence and equity.”
Silva’s agreement with the district calls for her to serve 15 months as a full-time “special consultant,” and Thein said that he welcomed working with her.
“Valeria is a very passionate and creative person,” he said.
His agreement to lead St. Paul schools came together in the last couple weeks, he said, and he is to be paid an annual salary of $202,500. The district can end the agreement with two weeks’ notice.
Would he be interested in the permanent job?
“Absolutely not,” he said. “No way.”
Also Wednesday, Silva sent a letter to staff members, families and community partners declaring the job of St. Paul schools superintendent to be “the best job in the world.” She wrote that she had intended to stay through December 2018, but that the board had other plans, and that during the upcoming transition, “I am committed to supporting the students, families and staff of our extraordinary district.”