By Melody Gutierrez
Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation to reduce the amount of severance pay California school boards can offer departing superintendents, some of whom were collecting six-figure payouts after being fired.
The state will cap severance pay at 12 months, down from 18 months, for new public school superintendents beginning Jan. 1, under the the new legislation.
"By placing limits on cash settlements, we save money for students, begin to improve our schools' administrative processes and demonstrate fiscal discipline in the administration of taxpayer dollars," said bill author Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas.
Under AB215, a superintendent making $300,000 a year would receive $150,000 less in severance when reducing the maximum buyout clause from 18 months to a year's salary.
Alejo attempted a similar bill two years ago that would have capped severance at six months pay for fired school leaders and three months for those who voluntarily leave. After his attempt failed in 2013, Alejo said he decided to try again after reading a Chronicle story in October about high-priced departures.
That story focused on several superintendents from the Bay Area who were among the highest-paid school employees in the state in 2013 largely because they were fired and received six-figure severance payouts. One was Kari McVeigh, a former superintendent of New Haven Unified School District in Union City, whose total pay in 2013 topped $600,000, more than half of which was from an 18-month severance payment.
SB215 would also deny severance to a superintendent who is fired for fraud, misappropriation of funds or other illegal fiscal practices if the allegations are confirmed by an independent audit. Currently, state law allows for districts to grant up to six months of severance for superintendents who were fired for fraud.
Severance pay is typically included in superintendent contracts to limit the amount of pay a district must award to a fired or otherwise departing leader who still has several years left on their contract. Districts increasingly began to offer the state maximum of 18 months to superintendents, prompting the surge in severance pay.
Opponents of the bill argued that superintendents, who are at-will employees, can be fired at any time without cause and need incentives to take jobs, particularly in troubled districts.
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