Board of Education’s decision concerning the discontinuing of the services of the school superintendent sustained by the Commissioner of Education

Board of Education’s decision concerning the discontinuing of the services of the school superintendent sustained by the Commissioner of Education
Decision of the Commissioner of Education, Decision No. 16,352

The contract of employment between the school board and its superintendent included a provision entitled “Termination” wherein it provided that the employment relationship between the superintendent and the board could be terminated for any of the following reasons:

1. Disability of the superintendent;

2. Written resignation of the superintendent;

3. Termination upon agreement; or

4. Discharge for cause.

When the board and the superintendent entered into an agreement entitled “Separation Agreement, Release and Waiver” providing for a payment of $89,500 in full satisfaction of the district’s financial obligations to the superintendent and the superintendent’s agreement to resign from the position and forfeit all claims against the District, an individual filed an appeal with the Commissioner of Education challenging the execution of such an agreement.

Essentially the appeal argued that the superintendent should be terminated for cause without compensation, alleging various acts of misconduct on the part of the Superintendent. 

In addition, the appeal alleged that the Board “wilfully neglected its duty and misused district funds by offering to buy out the superintendent’s employment contract and by failing to investigate [the petitioner's] allegations and take corrective action.” The redress requested: the Commissioner should remove members of the Board from their positions and appoint a new board to serve until a special election is held and appoint or oversee the process to appoint a new superintendent.

After noting a number of procedural omissions requiring dismissal of certain allegations advanced by the individual, the Commissioner turned to turn to the merits of the remaining claims.

Citing Education Law §§1709(13) and (33), and 1804(1), the Commissioner said that a board of education has broad powers “concerning the superintendence, management, and control of a central school district.” In addition, noted the Commissioner, “a board of education has the authority to enter into an employment contract with a superintendent including provisions regarding termination, citing Education Law §§1711 and 1804[1]. 

Finding that in this instance the Board had entered into an employment agreement with the Superintendent that contained several options with respect to termination, the Commissioner dismissed the appeal commenting that “I will not substitute my judgment for that of a board of education unless it is demonstrated that the board acted arbitrarily, capriciously, abused its discretion or failed to comply with applicable law.”

In an appeal to the Commissioner, the petitioner has the burden of demonstrating a clear legal right to the relief requested and the burden of establishing the facts upon which petitioner seeks relief. 

The Commissioner decided that “On the record before me, petitioner has failed to meet her burden,” explaining that “The terms of the contract specifically permit termination by mutual agreement, and [the Board’s] answer indicates that [the Board] carefully considered the issues, including weighing the costs of discharge for cause versus a negotiated agreement.”

Although the Commissioner noted that the petitioner disagreed with the Board’s decision not to dismiss the superintendent for cause, the Commissioner said that “she has submitted no reply to refute the board’s statements that it reviewed its options and determined that a separation agreement was more responsible than a protracted dismissal for cause” and dismissed the appeal."

The decision is posted on the Internet at: