Just when you thought school spending couldn’t get any worse, this happens.
Two weeks after signing a five-year, $1.6 million contract, Lancaster ISD’s superintendent was let go for unknown reasons—but not before being sent away with a severance package worth more than $2 million. The buyout is so massive that it threatens to “virtually clear out any of the [district’s] reserves,” according to its chief financial officer.
Anger over the controversial seven-figure payment has boiled over into both litigation and an investigation by the Texas Education Agency. What comes of either effort is anyone’s guess, but one thing is clear: superintendent severance is a big problem, both in Lancaster ISD and elsewhere.
As the Texas Public Policy Foundation wrote last year: “…between 2013 and 2017, 141 school superintendents made off with $18.3 million in severance pay, according to the Texas Monitor.” Some of these payments were awarded to superintendents accused of scandalous behavior too. It’s not known whether misconduct played a part in Lancaster ISD’s decision (the district won’t say).
All of this bad behavior harms taxpayers and students alike. It burdens the former with higher taxes and robs the latter of much-needed classroom resources. In Lancaster ISD’s case, it even threatens the financial viability of the entity itself. This should prompt state lawmakers to act.
The next Texas Legislature should pass commonsense reforms to rein in out of control severance packages. Ideas might include:
- Cap severance pay at a definite amount such as the equivalent of 20 weeks’ compensation;
- Withhold payouts altogether in the event of employee misconduct; and
- Require severance payment agreements to be posted prominently online.
Most of these recommendations are in line with what other large states have done, including Illinois, Florida, and California. It’s time Texas followed suit and stopped school districts from giving away money for nothing.