hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

June 13, 2013

Payout for principals blocked

Two were in line for inflated retirement packages until questions raised

By Shawn Regan
Staff Writer

---- — The sharp eyes and good memories of two School Committee members have saved the school district $26,000.

The original school budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1 included the money as severance-related pay for two principals retiring at the end of the school year — Stephen Sierpina at Consentino Middle School and Chris Jayne at Silver Hill Horace Mann Charter School.

Most of the money was due the principals because they were cashing in more than 10 days of unused vacation pay, according to school administrators. Each principal was also set to receive a $1,000 bonus for giving the district advance notice of his resignation.

But School Committee members Scott Wood and Shaun Toohey said they remembered voting on a new policy several years ago that capped the number of vacation days employees can cash in at 10. They also said they never heard of any policy giving workers bonus pay for early notice of resignations.

Wood said he would not support the school budget until Superintendent James Scully researched the matter.

Scully looked into it and found Wood and Toohey were correct on both counts.

The payouts to the two principals were eliminated from the revised $90.5 million school budget that was approved by the School Committee last week.

“It was a mistake on us,” Scully said of the erroneous severance packages. “There’s nothing in their contracts about early leave notice or cashing in more than 10 days of unused vacation.”

Scully noted a teacher had been paid a bonus for early-leave notice a year or two ago, but he said that was at a time when the district was trying to get an early estimate of teachers and administrators who would return the following year.

“It was not an official policy and should not have been offered to these two principals,” Scully said.

Mayor James Fiorentini credited Wood and Toohey with saving the district $26,000 — a little less than half a year’s teacher salary.

After the principal pay issue was resolved, the School Committee debated the $90.5 million budget proposal and eventually passed it unanimously with several changes.

The biggest change was the committee’s cut of $1.1 million in special education spending. The cuts, mainly teacher aide positions, are part of a planned reorganization of the special education department, Scully told the committee.

Committee members said they were comfortable eliminating the aides because the move is not expected to impact class sizes.

The spending cuts were also needed to make up for prior estimates by school officials of health insurance-related cost increases that turned out to be low, Scully said.

The school transportation request was also reduced by $200,000 in a deal worked out by Fiorentini and Scully. The School Department was looking for an extra $500,000 next year to improve and expand school bus routes, but the mayor would support only $300,000 more.

Fiorentini also put $200,000 under his control into a special school reserve that cannot be tapped without the approval of City Council. That money is part of $600,000 in federal Medicaid reimbursements that has traditionally been given to the schools.

Several committee members objected, but the mayor said he set up the reserve because the committee would not do it on its own.

Overall, the school budget is up about $4.3 million or about 5 percent, most of which comes from state aid money.