17 Boston school officials paid $762,000 in settlements

Cassellius calls payments part of ‘fair parting agreement’

IN AN APPARENT EFFORT to stave off potential lawsuits for wrongful termination or to just cushion departures, Boston Public School officials shelled out $762,000 over a nearly two-year period for settlement agreements with 17 school employees.

The 17 cash settlementwere paid to 11 administrators, five teachers, and one librarian. Another 50 settlements did not involve any financial payouts.

The precise nature of the settlements was not clear because they were heavily redacted, but the agreements with the administrators refer to each sides’ desire to reach an amicable separation of employment. The agreements include provisions barring future lawsuits against the city for discrimination based on age, disabilities, gender, and race/ethnicity.

All of the administrators who got settlement agreements were employees at will with no contracts. In a prepared statement, Superintendent Brenda Cassellius indicated such agreements are not unusual.

“When arriving at a decision to leave the district, we consider many factors in determining what is a fair parting agreement, above and beyond what is required as part of all exits,” Cassellius said. “This includes years of service and contributions to the district. Each exit is considered fully on a case-by-case basis and in consultation with the departing employee and all involved legal parties.”

Boston school superintendent Brenda Cassellius.

The agreements, which contain confidentiality provisions, were obtained under the state’s Public Records Law for the period August 2018 to May 2020, a time span that encompassed the administrations of Cassellius (seven settlements for $378,000) and her predecessor, Laura Perille (10 settlements for $384,000). A number of the agreements likely involved employees who were let go when the superintendents brought in their own people.

The settlement agreements with the teachers and the librarian came about as a result of negotiations between the Boston Public Schools and the Boston Teachers Union.

Last September, David Murphy, who Cassellius promoted earlier in the summer to be her chief of staff, abruptly announced he would be leaving in October “to pursue a professional opportunity outside of the district,” according to a story in the Boston Globe. 

Not included in the story was an important detail. Just a few days earlier, Cassellius signed a settlement agreement with Murphy in which he pocketed $99,615, including  $43,615, representing three months of salary; $49,965 in accrued vacation time; $4,025 in accrued sick time; and $2,010 in accrued personal time.

Murphy’s agreement cites the parties’ “mutual desire . . . to conclude their current employment relationship and effectuate an amicable separation of employment.”  It further notes that the separation is “not performance-based nor is it the result of any disciplinary matter.”

Two months after leaving, Murphy landed a job as strategic planning advisor for the superintendent of Lowell Public Schools. He is now an assistant superintendent at Medford Public Schools.

A similar scenario played out with John Hanlon, Cassellius’ former chief of operations, who also received a settlement.  In January, Hanlon was placed on administrative leave, but BPS officials refused to offer any explanation. Two months later Hanlon resigned, telling WBUR that “new district leadership often leads to changes in personnel, which is certainly understandable.”

In connection with his departure, Hanlon received a $69,850 settlement.

Three other school administrators and two teachers were also the recipients of settlements under Cassellius, one of whom was Assistant Principal Jonna Sullivan-Casey, who received a $45,095 settlement. Her agreement cites the parties’ desire “to resolve all disputes between them in order to avoid the unnecessary expenditure of time, costs, and attorney fees.”

The 10 settlement agreements under Perille involved six administrators, three teachers, and one librarian.  The biggest cash settlement under Perille was $82,275 given to Khita Pottinger-Johnson, who served as executive director for social and emotional learning and instruction.

The additional 50 settlement agreements that did not involve any financial payouts were executed by Cassellius and Perille with a wide variety of school personnel including teachers and administrators. The agreements also involved school police officers, paraprofessionals, bus monitors, and tradespeople, whose settlements likely involved disciplinary actions.

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Sam Tyler, the former president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, said settlement agreements can serve legitimate purposes, but they should be openly acknowledged and accounted for.

“The cumulative expense of these agreements for the school department should be reported in the city’s annual financial statements, and a uniform policy stating the authorized purposes for a settlement agreement should be adopted,” he said.