Harsh Words Fly at School Board: Residents React to $250K Severance Package
Officials at Independent School District 191 faced a battery of questions from residents angered by the district's silence surrounding a costly severance agreement with Dr. Tania Chance, who left the district in the middle of a two-year contract.
Thursday, scores of Burnsville taxpayers demanded answers about the departure of Dr. Tania Chance, former executive director of human resources who abruptly left Independent School District 191 with a large severance settlement and little explanation. Much to the crowd's disappointment, district officials stayed mum — even as some residents called for the entire school board's resignation.
Thus far, the district has not disclosed precisely why Chance left nor why the district was obliged to pay her $254,814 for the remainder of the two-year contract approved in summer of 2011. Officials will not discuss Chance's performance evaluations, though they insist that the district is being "as transparent with information as the law allows." ISD 191 contends that this information is protected by the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act — a claim that legal counsel for the Star Tribune disputes.
Whatever the case may be, after over an hour in the hot seat, School Board Chair Ron Hill surrendered little additional information.
"I understand how unsatisfactory that is. It was a difficult decision," Hill said. "I'm a businessman. I don't like giving away money, but I will not expose the district by not following the law."
However, Hill offered noncommittal replies to inquiries that did not concern specific employee data, such as whether the district would fill Chance's position and where the money to pay her severance would come from during a time of budget crisis.
"We are working on that through our budgetary processes. We have some areas underbudget and we'll likely use money from those areas, but we haven't specifically identified them yet," Hill said.
This did not sit well with those in attendance. Several audience members suggested that such perceived evasions may be far more damaging to the district's long-term financial wellbeing than the severance settlement itself.
"I am stunned. The fact that you guys are hiding behind the law, which a lot of people are pretty confident you're in violation of, is quite disturbing to me," said Mark Nesvig, a Savage resident and parent. "With all of our money in your pocket, I don't know why you would ever think that you would get to decide behind closed doors what you were going to do with it, especially at the expense of students and teachers in this district."
"I have never in my life voted against a school levy, but I couldn't possibly imagine voting for a levy with you, Mr. Hill, or anyone else that approved this package in charge of where my money is going to go," Nesvig continued. "As soon as tonight, I want your resignation, and the resignation of everyone on the board. Step aside and let us turn the page and move on with new leadership because nothing good can possibly come from any of this."