How Was Brochu Deal Handled?

Now that former Richland 2 Superintendent Katie Brochu has moved on, and the separation agreement between her and the District has been signed, it is reasonable to expect that the community has questions on the handling and terms of the separation negotiations.

The generous contract that Brochu received in March of 2010 was negotiated on her behalf by attorney Mike Montgomery, who was intimately familiar with Richland 2 having served on the Board in the past. The original employment contract was one of the most lucrative Superintendent contracts in our state, and included:

A salary of $215,000 with incremental increases;

• $10,000 moving expenses, on the condition that the Superintendent remains for term of contract (through 2014);

• $18,000+ additional salary to be placed in an annuity each year providing there has been a favorable annual job evaluation;

• $850 a month for local auto related expenses;

• Full reimbursements for travel, hotel, conferences and professional association dues.

Between March of 2010 and the summer of 2013, all of the above list occurred, including three $18,000 annuities despite the fact that there was only one job evaluation during the three years of Brochu’s employment—and that one had murky results.

Also in the original contract was the statement, “In light of the unique nature of the professional duties of the Superintendent, the District shall at its expense, have a complete and detailed background check performed.” The contract also outlined six options for terminating the employment contract: 1) mutual agreement; 2) retirement; 3) disability; 4) discharge for cause; 5) discharge without cause; and 6) death. Discharge without cause was the only option that outlined a payout.

The Voice recently obtained a copy of the June 13 separation agreement. The four-page document was titled, “Settlement Agreement and Mutual General Release.” The terms of the original contract do not provide any payout for a mutual agreement but Board members announced on June 13 that Brochu had offered her resignation and it had been accepted with the following terms:

• $130,000 (six months’ salary);

• Removal of the requirement to pay back the $10,000 moving expenses;

• Board members (individually and collectively) and Brochu will not make “disparaging” comments publicly about one another.

The Board, by their own account, acted very quickly to release Brochu from her contract. What was the hurry and what warranted giving Brochu anything that was not required in the original contract? What caused Board members to think that the concerns over Brochu had reached a crescendo, but that she and they needed to be protected? The settlement agreement protects them (the Board and Brochu) from us in the community getting answers now and in the future. The original employment contract was signed by then Chairman Bill Flemming and Vice-chairwoman Susan Brill. Ironically, these are the same officers who navigated the release agreement. It was only months ago that, in a special called Board meeting, Flemming was unwilling to enlarge the general fund budget and fund new positions. Yet, he is quickly willing to grant Brochu a six-month severance salary and forgive her for $10,000 in moving expenses. The settlement was signed by all Board members and, for the record, all members agreed with this document.

Of course, the public will never know the full story now, because the Board negotiated a detail that prevents a Superintendent (who has brought turmoil to the third consecutive school district in her career) and the Board from having to make such a disclosure. This cloak of silence is unacceptable. Within months of Brochu’s arrival, the public voiced deep concerns over the District’s direction and even more importantly expressed concern over Brochu’s history of management. Who performed the background check required by the initial employment contract? Since the discord between Brochu and her former staffs/communities is clearly documented and easily found, we can conclude that either the background check was not thorough or the Board did not consider that Brochu’s combative history with her previous two districts was important. Of course, we will never know, because the Board has signed a silence agreement.

What is the community to do? First and foremost, we can celebrate in the selection of a well-respected, even-keeled Interim Superintendent — Debbie Hamm. But . . . back to the Board. The five Board members who made the selection in the first place and were slow to see the disconnect between the community’s desires and the Superintendent’s goals will now be in a position to select again. Historically, their track record is weak in transparency; week in unity between themselves, District staff and community; and most importantly week in vision. Whatever fallback they have used the past few years, it failed its students for those same years. This is the time for our newest two members, James Manning and Monica Elkins, to bring their ideas to the floor. Long-term Board members might serve the community well by giving respect to the recently elected members who can challenge the hiring process used in the past.

During the past two Board meetings, I have seen an enthusiasm and unity between the Board members themselves and the District staff, but no public recognition to the community of how the Board’s repeated shortcomings contributed to the three-year reign of chaos. That will not be forthcoming – because of the cloak that prevents public conversation about our history and how they might have learned from it.

So the Board asks that we in the community trust that the costs to get out from under Brochu were worth it. Trust is earned – it hasn’t happened in three years, and it is very presumptuous for the Board to expect it now. Still, for the sake of our nearly 28,000 students, the community needs to give the Board a 15th chance while keeping an eye on community members who might serve on the Board in the future, and the Board needs to find ways to immediately communicate and show the community they have learned from their history.