Public shut out on why Bearden, BoE split up
Fayette County taxpayers are paying for Superintendent Jeff Bearden’s attorney’s fees in the secret clash that led to his “mutual termination agreement” with the Board of Education Sept. 19, plus a year’s salary and benefits while he looks for another job.
But don’t ask why. Bearden and the board also agreed to keep secret why the two-year marriage between the small-town Maine superintendent and the fractious five-member board went bust in the midst of a system financial meltdown and public controversy over closing beloved neighborhood schools.
At least one sentence in the lawyer-brokered agreement suggests part of what went on behind closed doors: “All parties specifically agree that as of the date of the agreement, they are aware of no evidence which would require a report to any federal, state or private regulatory agency with regard to the conduct of the other.”
Aside from matters of financial compensation, the agreement is clear that, despite the flurry of public speculation, what exactly led to the mutual termination agreement will remain secret from the public.
The terms of the agreement call for Bearden’s contract to remain in effect through Dec. 31. The agreement states that, following that date, he will receive an amount equal to one year of annual salary. That salary is $153,000, according to his most recent contract extension executed during the summer. Bearden will be responsible for all taxes owed from the compensation.
The agreement also calls for Bearden to receive funds necessary to pay the state health insurance premium or costs for one year, to receive an amount equal to the daily rate for any accumulated annual leave already accrued and up to $2,500 in documented attorney’s fees.
The bulk of the agreement dealt with issues that do not involve financial compensation. Rather, it dealt with what will not be said about the reason for the mutual termination agreement, something that has been the topic of significant speculation since the Sept. 19 meeting.
“This agreement is to compromise a disputed claim and for no other purpose. All parties agree, understand and acknowledge that the parties recognize, admit, or acknowledge no liability whatsoever to each other and that the parties specifically deny any such liability. Niether this agreement nor any payment hereunder is to be construed as an admission of liability on the part of the other party,” the agreement said.
“(Bearden and all members of the school board) agree not to make any oral or written communication to any person or entity that disparages, is intended to damage the reputation, or has the effect of damaging the reputation of another party. No statements will be made by any party to this agreement, including the individual members of the Board of Education, contrary to the terms of this agreement or the joint press release issued by the parties. All parties specifically agree that as of the date of the agreement, they are aware of no evidence which would require a report to any federal, state or private regulatory agency with regard to the conduct of the other,” the agreement said.
The press release referenced in the agreement states, “At a specially called meeting on Sept. 19, 2012, the superintendent and Board of Education agreed, in accordance with the terms of the superintendent’s employment agreement, to a mutual termination of that agreement effective Jan. 1, 2013. The Board of Education expresses its appreciation to Dr. Bearden for his leadership and many initiatives that have improved the school district during his service as superintendent. Dr. Bearden expresses his thanks and gratitude for the encouragement and most of all the support of staff, parents and the community. The superintendent and all board members are committed to a smooth and productive transition, continuing to address the needs of the school system and providing the best possible education for the students of Fayette County.”
— Edited and with additional material written by Cal Beverly