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Lakeville School Board Mulling Over Amoroso's Large Severance

Departing superintendent's retirement package leaves district with more than $360,000 in compensation due.

Coming on the heels of that included the , elimination of more than 85 teachers and the slashing of a number of educational programs, the Lakeville Area Public School District's School Board is now faced with a retirement announcement by Superintendent Gary Amoroso that he will leave the district with a post-retirement compensation tab of more than $360,000.

from Lakeville schools and from public education in a March 15 email sent to staff members. His official letter of retirement was presented to the School Board for approval during last night’s regularly scheduled meeting. Amorso is leaving the district effective June 30 to take a position as executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators (MASA), a non-profit professional organization. He has previously served as that organization’s president in 2009-2010.

Lakeville School Board member Bob Erickson urged the board to remove approval of Amoroso’s retirement request from the consent agenda. The item was listed under standard resignations and leave of absence notifications that also included other district employees.

That motion was adopted by singling out Amoroso’s name.

While the board has no ability to officially deny Amoroso’s retirement, it was clear some of the terms of his departure didn’t sit well.

Under terms of , the total compensation due to him from the district after his departure due to retirement comes to $361,572 according to district administration and is broken down as follows:

Severance and termination compensation: approximately $91,000
Unused sick leave: approximately $91,000
Medical insurance benefit for 10 years: $163,000
Dental insurance benefits for 10 years: $15,000

Erickson stated that the retirement compensation was consistent in keeping with the district’s agreement with Education Minnesota – Lakeville’s general provisions that covered other district employees. Erickson did question the severance compensation specifically, though, calling it “a little suspect.”

The district has already received feedback from attorneys at the law firm of Knutson, Flynn and Deans that essentially indicated the district would have to satisfy the terms of the contract as written.

Under the terms, Amoroso would not be entitled to the severance portion of the retirement package if he were either discharged or enters into a new employment contract within 30 days of his effective retirement.

Since neither of those conditions has or is likely to occur, the $91,000 in severance and benefits would have to be honored.

“My question is, is he not moving from one contract to another?” asked director Michelle Volk during discussion of the issue.

“I’m going to work for a non-profit organization,” said Amoroso after the meeting had concluded. When asked if that was the differentiating distinction that allowed him to collect the severance portion of the package, he responded “That’s the opinion of the board’s attorney, which is an opinion also shared by myself.”

Amoroso is leaving the district which currently pays him $183,401 in annual salary plus benefits. He has declined to comment on his compensation agreement with MASA, a non-profit professional association founded in 1968 that represents more than 500 superintendents and administrators involved with Minnesota schools.

Tax documents filed by MASA show outgoing Executive Director Charles Kyte received $151,885 in base compensation from their fiscal year ending June 30, 2009. An additional $42,959 in deferred compensation and non-taxable benefits was also listed.

That document also shows that a “written employment contract” was used to determine the organization’s compensation package for the executive director position.

MASA representatives could not be immediately reached for comment regarding whether that provision has since changed. A MASA press release on March 16 stated only that Amoroso would assume his position as executive director of that organization “beginning July, 2011.”

Previous news reports have stated Amoroso would assume his MASA position on July 1.

Kyte is retiring effective Oct. 1, 2011 after serving in that role for 11 years.

Lakeville School Board member Jim Skelly said he has felt somewhat “hamstrung” by open meeting laws which have prevented discussions regarding the contract prior to Tuesday’s meeting and other members agreed that they weren’t yet prepared to enter into open discussions on the issue.

It was clear, however, that most didn’t feel comfortable with the situation given what the district has just gone through.

According to district administrators, one full-time equivalency teaching position in the district costs $60,000.

But even amid the controversy, members also made a point to praise Amoroso for his efforts during his 10 years as superintendent of Lakeville schools, noting the progress in academic test scores that have positioned the district at or near the top of the largest Minnesota school districts in many tested categories.

“You have been a rock for our district,” said Volk.

“When we hired you, the main goal was to make us one of the most educationally premier districts in the state,” said board member Kathy Lewis, who was on the board that hired Amoroso. “You have accomplished that and I think that deserves thanks and kudos and I wish you well.”

Although it’s unclear what options the board has at this point with regard to the severance provision, further discussion is certain to follow. They voted to bring up the issue during a study session on April 5.

“I will abide by the contract,” said Amoroso regarding the apparent controversy. “And I would expect the board to abide by that contract.”

Erickson characterized the April 5 study session as critically important in shaping the district’s search for Amoroso’s successor and how his departure will impact that search. He also said the board has not yet had the opportunity to discuss how they would proceed in that search.

Erickson did voice his preference to alter the district’s agreement for any incoming candidate.

“Would I approve another contract for the new superintendent with the same language? No,” he said.

Lisa March 24, 2011 at 01:35 PM
I hope the board selects a candidate that can build the trust of the community, effectively and consistently communicate with the community and get a levy passed. I agree with you misse soze, he built AND dismanatled this district. It was his job to sell the levy - and he failed. Bottom line - more students are open enrolled OUT of Lakeville. . .not in. That fact means two things - less money and less desirability which can translate to lost property values and more strain on the budget. It does not bode well. We need a new superintendent to turn that around and fast!
Dee March 24, 2011 at 03:22 PM
I had made that same comment on a differnt article (share your thoughts with board members) . I asked if anyone had, and no one responded. Have you emailed or called the board members with your thoughts? Take action if you don't like what is happening! It's worth a try!
Charlie Gerk March 24, 2011 at 03:54 PM
Randy, It is comments like the ones you have left about this situation that got you my vote in November and will again in the future. It is obvious that you not only care about the kids, but can also keep a practical budget!
Doreen Machin March 24, 2011 at 07:15 PM
Why would any Board member approve such an outrageous severance package? We have been in a recession since 2007 or doesn't that matter? I sure hope the School Board will not offer a new candidate such a lavish contract as you did for Dr. Armoso. In this community as others we have lost jobs, property has decreased in values & we area about levied out ofnew property tax increases to pay for school needs. It should be about the student first. Reading this generouse severance payout looks like Superintendent first. Remember the wages are piad for by hard working taxpayers, a great majority of these people have degrees are not reimbursed such as this if they move on to a new job or laid off. A severance package of this size sure could pay for some good teachers salaries. I feel confident Bob Erickson will be conservative in going forward in selecting a new Superintendent. I hope the other School Board members will listen to his voice of experience.
Sal Tessio March 24, 2011 at 07:22 PM
Disenchanted doesn't begin to cover it...my kids are stuck with larger class sizes, fewer choices, and grossly inflated activity fees. I'm stuck in an undervalued house with few options in my ability to sell. This fall we'll have teachers working in areas in which they are licensed...but lack expertise. The problem will be compounded by our stagnant/ declining enrollment and slow residential growth. My neighbor just got his layoff notice. He is, by all accounts, an excellent teacher. He get's no severance, no health insurance, no benefits or golden parachute. His only crime was being hired recently and falling below some arbitrary line determined by the district office.
Shari Howell March 24, 2011 at 07:56 PM
What a slap in the face to this community! Actually, more like a kick in the gut to an already bloody and bruised school system. Unfortunately, the school board is highly unlikely to be able to force Amoroso to do the honorable thing. If they don't honor the contract, Amoroso will probably have the legal grounds necessary to successfully sue the district. Public pressure needs to be put on Amoroso personally, our state legislators and even on MASA, who was undoubtedly part of this plan to help Amoroso get everything he wanted. Keep spreading the word - our children deserve this money NOT Amoroso!!
ABSG March 24, 2011 at 09:29 PM
Shari - I encourage you to write the board....I actually just sent them a long email myself. I was very frank and up front. I hate people that sugar coat stuff. I too am appalled at this contract and Gary. I have never supported this guy from day one and he is showing his true colors today just like I knew he would. This is legalized theivery if you ask me.
Andy Mako March 24, 2011 at 09:33 PM
Here is my radical suggestion. If classroom teachers are being asked to do more with less, perhaps it is time to ask the whole district to do the same. I would say maybe the district could just not hire a superintendant. Principals and other administrators could pick up the slack and take care of their own schools. I am sure there are other positions at the district level which could similarly be furloughed for a year to see how we could get along without them. What exactly does a superintendent do which impacts our students so much? More than an art teacher? More than a special education teacher? I would bet money that if the district does not hire a new super the students' test scores will not be effected.
ABSG March 24, 2011 at 09:44 PM
I would agree with you on that Andy - Just more layers of unneeded fat! Someone always has to be in charge of someone else.
Dee March 24, 2011 at 09:48 PM
Interesting article from back in 2003 about the large severance pay for superintendent contracts: http://brainerddispatch.com/stories/041403/sne_0414030016.html It questions those kinds of contracts and alternatively says school boards feel they need to do that to attract the best candidates. I guess it's not a new issue.
ABSG March 24, 2011 at 09:55 PM
No, it's not a new issue. They don't NEED TO DO anything...that is a total cop out. Boards are just weak to stand firm! Do you seriously think this position would be left vacant because we aren't offering $150,000 a year + tons of perks? That's Crap!
TOM March 24, 2011 at 09:59 PM
All elected public servants should have term limits-----THE SCHOOL BOARD
Andy Mako March 24, 2011 at 10:04 PM
Exactly Chris. Hey if home values can be cut in half why not a superintendant's salary. While we're at it I believe that if you offered all your administrators a 5 to 10 thousand dollar reduction in salary they would not all quit. If they did quit I bet you could find a qualified replacement for 15,000 dollars less than what your paying them. I just think that the school district needs to think outside of the box a little.
Andy Mako March 24, 2011 at 10:15 PM
@ Tom: I don't think term limits are really a solution. Perhaps term limits are just the lazy citizens way of holding the public servants accountable. I think citizens need to just vote in the elections and encouraging their neighbors to do the same. If they want to do more they could attend the meetings or run for office. I can't imagine that anyone would really try to be on a school board for any other reason than they feel a need to try to make their community the best that it can be. It is a terribly complex position.
TOM March 24, 2011 at 11:11 PM
Andy, lets have graduation in Lakeville the point is they need to be held accountable TERM LIMITS
ABSG March 25, 2011 at 12:19 AM
And on what grounds does the board have to fire or terminate him? We are dollar short and a day late to do that. He'd turn around and sue district. I like the idea Charlie...and Amoroso is using the word "retirement" as a way to make sure he gets this severance. I am sure he had a lawyer review his contract before he made this announcement.
Randy Pronschinske March 25, 2011 at 12:28 AM
Whats better the same lawyer that wrote the contract ws the one the board asked to review it to check their options! Maybe that is something Derrick would want to look at.
parent taxpayer March 25, 2011 at 03:43 AM
They Gary and the board should agree to not pay the $91k severance and sick days, or the board should terminate his contract and reduce his payout forcing Gary to sue the board for the difference. If he thinks he is really entitled to this much upon choosing to leave, make him prove his greed by asking for it. Not that this board would have the courage to, but could they resolve to accept his leave and stipulate a more approprate "severance/ retirement/ termination" package. If Gary wants to sue us, let him. If we lose, it would be worth the attorny cost.
parent taxpayer March 25, 2011 at 03:47 AM
great insight on why votes don't trust the district enough to pass bonds or levies easily. This fiasco is a prime example.
ABSG March 25, 2011 at 12:44 PM
I agree Parent Taxpayer - I have been thinking that same thing. Let Gary come after the district.....RARELY are legal fees granted so it would nice to know he had to spend 40 - 50% of that money to pay his lawyer!
Andy Charrier March 25, 2011 at 03:00 PM
I would guess that some version of the strategy is or will be applied. The leverage the board would have here is that his new employer would probably frown on their new hire being embroiled in an unsightly battle over severance. Both sides have to understand this unique situation. I think when the IS196 superintendent left in 2003 (?) and got a huge severance he ended up giving back a chunk of that money. Can anybody confirm that? That has to be how it ends here too.
Dan T March 25, 2011 at 06:10 PM
Dan Come on taxpayers. All you have to do is work a few more hours, days, give up a couple of vacations or outings with your family, don’t eat out as much, the list can go on and on. This is nothing new. But why does it continue to happen? If another district is willing to pay $250,000 annual salary plus whatever benefits they need, does that mean we must at least match it to get a shot at getting “best and brightest”? If so this is only going to continue. In all areas of public employment! Weather it is the cities, schools, post office or any other public entity that gets taxpayer money it seams like the issues is to make a case for just how important a certain job, or group of jobs are for society and then make as many layers of bureaucracy to keep it all in place, and get a bigger part of the taxpayer dollar to better secure our future without taking into consideration the working people paying the tax.. As salaries in most many areas have been getting pushed down and as the taxpayer pool of funds get smaller and smaller I think these types of issues will be pushing themselves to the forefront for sometime to come. The governing boards have an option to say no to these contracts and salaries. Why do the same people keep getting elected?
Ronald J. Kes March 26, 2011 at 06:19 PM
When I read about the golden parachute severance package for Gary Amoroso I got physically ill. I have been associated with Lakeville Schools for 50 or more years as a student, as a bus driver, as a custodian and as a tax payer. I have seen District 194 do some bonehead things over the years (million dollar football field when we are laying off teachers and other school staff, buying land for future building and not building on it, close a school, terminate approximately 100 employees and supposedly save $760,000.00 for the year and turn around and give the superintendent a golden parachute severance package of over $360,000.00). Half of the money we so-called saved, we gave to Amoroso. In big business I guess they call this a head hunter. Get rid of people that someone in management decides aren't needed anymore. And then give the head hunter a bonus for terminating all of these people. (Continued)
Ronald J. Kes March 26, 2011 at 06:32 PM
We cannot be mad at him, he is just like any CEO of any big business, they take all they can out of the business and then turn around and give the business the golden shower. School staff, students and taxpayers should be mad as hell at the school board. Everyone on the board had a hand in renewing Gary's contracts over the years. And even gave him a signing bonus, that would have been the time to have done something about the contract Mr. Erickson. It is time for everyone on the board to step up to the plate and take a big healthy bite of a sandwich filled with what comes out of a cow's backside and admit they screwed up. Resign before the taxpayers fire them or have a recall election on grounds of dereliction of their duties. How can the community expect the best of the school staff when the board is so poor at their duties. The taxpayers need to get a new board before you find there are more of these golden parachutes for other top administrators waiting to fall. (Continued)
Ronald J. Kes March 26, 2011 at 06:36 PM
This severance package is a kick in the groin to every hardworking public employee in the state and in the country. When we live in a time when every headline grabbing, ultra-conservative Republican politician is blaming all the money troubles in the state and in the country on the union members of the public employee work force. Gary Amoroso and the Lakeville School Board did more damage to the image of the public employee workforce than Scott Walker did or ever could have done. It will be interesting to see if the Shakopee School District will give their retiring superintendent such a generous severance package.
Andy Charrier March 26, 2011 at 06:48 PM
Ron, I couldn't agree more. This is a boondoggle of epic proportions and it will take years for the public relations impact to diminish. And, you are totally right that the circumstances couldn't be worse. What I find most galling is that the law was changed so that school boards didn't need to make sweet deals like -- the state law that limited pay was removed so boards could pay an agreed upon salary and call it good -- and all of this happens in the timeframe where the state auditor is reviewing these contracts and is making plenty of noise about why this practice needed to stop. Yet, somehow, this guy gets MORE rather than less at this same time.
Dee March 27, 2011 at 02:11 AM
Jus an FYI, for anyone that hasn't heard about this organization: Parents United for Public Schools www.parentsunited.org is a parent organization advocating for appropriate school funding at the state level. They send email updates to you if you would like them. I find it makes it easier to follow what's going in education at the legislature. They are also sponsoring, on April 11th, their 9th annual Parent Leadership Summit. It runs from 9-3:30 and costs $20. The commissioner of education will be one of the presenters. Just thought I'd throw this information out there for anyone who might be interested.
Christine March 27, 2011 at 07:45 PM
Before you backhand Bob Erickson, please note that he is the newest of our board members, beginning his term in 2009. He is not one of the "lifers" on the school board who hold responsibility for the current mess of the lucrative Superintendent contract. He is the one board member who is most vocal regarding the need for change and most transparent about dealings within the board. I am thankful for his service.
Andy Mako March 27, 2011 at 08:23 PM
There are a lot of good comments on this page. Does anyone know an efficient way to express an opinion or share an idea with the school board? I hope that someone is able to presure on Amoroso to do something honorable in this situation. I also hope that the board learns from this mistake. I think it is probable a better idea to promote someone from inside the the school district. Someone who has some ties to the community and who is an educator. I was just reading Donald J McGuire's bio and it creates a stark contrast with Amoroso's. I really think it is not worth the extra money to compete to get "The best and brightest" superintendent candidate. You need to get someone who is competent, efficient, a good communicator but who above all else is an EDUCATOR who values teachers, the community, and students.
Doreen Machin March 28, 2011 at 01:00 AM
I agree with Christine, Bob Erickson is not a lifer & worked hard to get on the School Board to give a conservative voice. The ones that should be questioned why you would offer such a payout package. Maybe ask Kathy Lewis what she was thinking at the time? Did you think the economy was always going to be on a high & levies always passed as we believed it was for the Students. Now reading alot on levies the school budget is about 80% of salaries & benefits. Private sector has taken a tough hit & this will not sit well with the taxpayers. Takes along time to build trust. Andy had the suggestion to look within & maybe that is the way to go to hire the next Superintendent without such a lavish benefit package taxpayers can no longer afford.

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