District 181 Board says Superintendent Schuster doesn’t have to pay $20,000 for leaving early

The Hinsdale-Clarendon Hills Elementary District 181 Board is not requiring outgoing Superintendent Renee Schuster to fulfill a clause in her contract calling for a $20,000 payment for early termination of the agreement.

Board President Marty Turek said the clause calling for Schuster to pay the district $20,000 to cover costs of finding a replacement does not apply because the contract was terminated by mutual agreement. The board paid professional search firm BWP & Associates $17,641 for its services in finding a new superintendent.

Schuster announced her resignation Feb. 10, and will step down June 30 to return to the St. Louis area, where she has family. She began work July 1, 2010 as the District 181 superintendent. Her most recent contract was signed Nov. 12, 2012 for the period starting July 1, 2012 and ending June 30, 2015. Her salary for the first year of that two-year deal is $220,747.

Schuster’s contract states it may be terminated for seven different reasons: mutual agreement of the superintendent and the board, retirement, discharge for cause, failure to comply with the terms and conditions of the agreement, failure to attain the student performance and academic improvement goals in the contract, disability of the superintendent, and death of the superintendent.

The contact also allows the board, with a minimum of 60 days notice, to terminate the contract without cause.

Finally, the contract also allows Schuster, with a minimum of 90 days notice to the board, to terminate the agreement during its term.

Under those circumstances, the superintendent is required to pay the board $20,000, “not as a penalty but solely as liquidated damages,” which relates to all the costs to the board of the search to obtain a successor and any interim replacement.

The section of the contract calling for Schuster’s $20,000 payment to the board was in her first contract and remained for her second agreement.

Turek, who was elected to the board in 2011, said the section of the contract calling for the payment to the board “doesn’t go back and encompass” the seven listed reasons for termination of the agreement.

“What about letter G?” Turek asked, referring to death of the superintendent. “We wouldn’t see payment in that case.”

Turek said he didn’t know what circumstances would have resulted in Schuster being asked to pay the board $20,000 for early termination of the contract or why the clause calling for the payment was in the document.

“I’m not a lawyer and can’t give a legal opinion,” he said. “We agreed as two parties that this was how we were going to handle this. I didn’t write the contract.”

Turek said the board checked with legal counsel before deciding that Schuster would not have to pay the $20,000.

“We also have two lawyers on the board,” he said, referring to Jill Vorobiev and Brendan Heneghan.

Schuster agreed because the contract was terminated by mutual agreement of the board and superintendent, no penalty or damages are needed.

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