Park City School District and Associate Superintendent are parting ways; agree to $200,000+ Severance

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On the 13th of July, The Park City Board of Education and Associate Superintendent Tom Van Gorder entered into a “Severance, Waiver, and Release” agreement. The agreement conveys that:

  • Mr Van Gorder’s tenure with the district will end on 8/31/2016
  • The District will pay up to $200,000 to purchase retirement service credit for Mr Van Gorder
  • The District will pay for 180 days of insurance benefits for Mr Van Gorder
  • The District will pay Mr Van Gorder his Administrative bonus for 2015/2016, outstanding sick leave, and vacation leave.

There are also other pieces of the agreement: Mr Van Gorder and the district agree not to sue the each other, the district will provide letters of recommendation for Mr Van Gorder, both parties agree not to disparage each other, and the agreement is confidential (unless required by law to share…which the district was required to share), etc..

We won’t editorialize this much. We’ve talked with Mr Van Gorder only a handful of times, and he was always very pleasant, nice, and knowledgable. We take the school district at their word (per this agreement) that he was “a very valuable employee”, “has considerable knowledge”, and has “received consistently excellent evaluations.”

We still will note that $200,000-plus is a lot of money.

In case you’d like to review it, here is the agreement we received via GRAMA request from the School District. We have masked signatures because we wouldn’t want our signatures on the Internet (and assume these parties don’t either).

What’s also interesting to watch is the school board meeting where they ultimately approve this agreement. Here is the overview of the discussion:

  1. Motion is made to approve and second the “separation agreement.” They enter discussion.
  2. School Board member Nancy Garrison says she would like to discuss the matter. Ms. Garrison says she is “fully in support of the Superintendent forming her own administrative team so she can achieve her goals… but I don’t think this agreement represents the best use of public funds.”
  3. Then one of the board members (can’t tell who from the video) says, “we’ll need further discussion before I can vote for it.”
  4. School Board President says, “then we’ll need to adjourn to closed session.” They do.
  5. They come back and Board member Phil Kaplan has joined them via phone.
  6. Another motion is made that they vote on the agreement
  7. Board member Phil Kaplan, via phone says, these types of agreements are more common in the corporate world, in order for a team to function well you not only need the best players but those players that work well together, and this is not a high cost sort of deal. He says he will support it.
  8. Board member, Julie Eihausen says she agrees with what Nancy said but that “for our district to be able to move forward, we need to move forward.”
  9. School Board president Tania Knauer then says she agrees with Phil and Nancy and wants to do what is best for kids and moving on is what’s best for kids. So, she is for it.
  10. Ms Garrison then votes against the motion. Mr Kaplan, Ms Eihausen, and Ms Knauer vote for it.
  11. The agreement passes.

Strange. The public is left to try and piece it all together. What exactly is going on?

We still come back to the fact that $200,000 (plus benefits) IS A LOT OF MONEY. We have the same question as School Board member Nancy Garrison, is this the best use of public funds? Mr Kaplan stated that this isn’t a high cost sort of deal. We suppose it’s not in the same league with the reported $40 million buyout Fox News paid to Roger Ailes after he allegedly sexually harassed a coworker. However, for a district that has had to recently raise taxes because it went negative into its rainy day fund, $200,000+ is real money.

We are sure there is more here, but it’s obvious that the district wants to move forward and quickly… “for the good of the children.”

Again, what exactly happened here?

If you are interested, here are the school board videos that (we guess) discuss the agreement.

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Parkrag

We believe in citizen journalism. We believe there are stories to tell that can help to shape our community for the better. We believe tomorrow's Park City can be better than today's.

17 comments

  • Merriam-Webster definition of “irony”- a (1) : incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result.

    Is it irony that the Director of Special Education and the Associate Superintendent have resigned? I think not. Failure to uphold the Federal rights of students. A call for an independent review. Several contracts not renewed under their directive, and likely due to persons challenging their instructions. This good ol boys (girls) club of administration is crumbling under scrutiny. Irony is our children left to bear the burden.

    The actual result of a sequence of events is what our community is witnessing here. Not irony, except to those who haven’t been privy to what’s happened and is continuing to happen. More and more coming to light, despite the attempt to conceal and minimize.

    What is the opposite of irony? Appropriate.

    • Sadly, this board is a law unto itself. Transparency has never been its strong suit. And yes, this should have been made public.

  • Phil Kaplan was proud to announce a plan to cut administrative costs to pay more teachers and adjust the ratio of admin/teachers to 65-35%, thereby laying people off to save the district $$$. How is paying off someone $200,000 in line with that directive??

  • $200,000 payout for a guy who spent all his time attending conferences and retaliating against those who crossed him??? Seems $200,000 too much.

    • Not sure how I just found out about this, but I agree with your comment 100%. TVG was wasted space and wasted money in the district. Ineffective on most counts. However, if $200k is what it costs to get him to go away and shut up, then it’s money well spent. I sure would like to know the whole story here, though, because there is CLEARLY more to it than what the public was told.

    • Not sure how I just found out about this, but I agree with your comment 100%. TVG was wasted space and wasted money in the district. Ineffective on most counts. However, if $200k is what it costs to get him to go away and shut up, then it’s money well spent. I sure would like to know the whole story here, though, because there is CLEARLY more to it than what the public was told.

  • I was not surprised by this as I heard a rumor, at the end of school year, that a certain individual ( never named) wanted a vote of no confidence for current Superintendent . The individual in question was immediately given notice. Seems the district now removes any dissenters from the ranks in such haste they set themselves up for litigation and establish a fear for your job atmosphere. Unfortunately , I fear , we have not send the end of costly decision making by the current Park City Superintendent and PC School Board.

  • I’m astonished not only by the buyout of Mr Van Gorder, but also by the ridiculous comments made by Board member Kaplan.

    The board seems bent on reducing school staff positions to save and shift a few thousand dollars to teaching based on cost metrics of other districts.

    These are FRACTIONS of a percentage point in total, falling to the right of the decimal point.

    Then to say that $200,000 is “not a high cost sort of deal” is ludicrous.

    Mr Kaplan, these are public funds, not private. This is a school district, not a profit-driven corporation. Let’s not compare apples and oranges!

    And why was this meeting not important enough to attend in person?

    (Were the other Board members not in attendance also polled? The vote could have gone the other way had all been present.) The entire process reeks.

    We cannot afford more nurses? Staff are fearful for their jobs. And yet, we can afford to buyout? Was it ever suggested that Mr. Van Gorder be reassigned? Or that he be encouraged to resign with no cost incurred if he is no longer deemed effective?

    How exactly, Ms. Knauer, is any of this in the best interest of our children?

    How exactly, Ms. Eihausen, is this “moving forward?”

    Honestly, I’m weary of hearing these platitudes, or that any of this is “for the children.”

    It’s not. It’s a slimy and odious way of appropriating our tax dollars, and definitely not in the transparent manner that the public deserves.

    Let’s see how the district accounts for this payout and where other opaque transactions occur. Molly, any comments??

    I hope not, but this seems like the tip of the iceberg.

  • This board needs to be recalled. Morale has never been lower. $200,000 as “no big deal” to pay off a guy deemed ineffective has become the way PCSD does business with our tax dollars. Really? And Phil Kaplan says we need “team players who play well together.” There is no team left!! 3 out of 4 PCHS admin have been pushed out. SPED department is non-existent. No-one dares dissent (see comment above about one brave soul who dared pose a vote of no-confidence). Sad times we’re living in.

  • Great questions Park Rag. Thanks for your journalism and pointing a light onto the shady going ons in our little town.

  • The $200K is nothing more then a buyout to silence Tom and to avoid the truth being made public which would happen if he had sued the district for his unlawfull termination.. This gives him is full retirment and no suit. Every person who has stood up to the Queen of Nothing has been removed and Tom was one of the last ones. This is the person who knows all the dirt on everybody in PCSD and I’m sure the $200k was money that was considered well spent to buy his silence.

    • Good point. Sadly it would seem you are right, especially after the AP was fired for wanting a vote of no confidence in our superintendent.

  • Hi Guys and Gals-

    We appreciate the constructive comments. I think this is an important issue for our community. Judging from the comments, some of which likely come from school district employees, I can tell there a variety of opinions on this and most people don’t seem to like it.

    That said, let’s try to keep these comments constructive and useful. Name calling and sweeping generalization just makes this sound like an angry mob that’s got ginned up. We don’t care if you don’t like what the Superintendent or a local principal has done. However, give us specifics on it. Educate us. Make us understand what you know and/or believe. Those arguments resonate so much better.

    After all, it sounds like what many of our commenters are after is change. I know for a fact our public officials ignore the crap. If you want change, tell them why. They just may listen.

  • John McNulty, as you are the only one putting your name on your comments, I ask you to contact me (and/or any other SBoard Member) directly. We all are very willing to listen and want our schools to provide the best for kids.

    Julie Eihausen,
    tknauer @pcschools.us


    • Julie, no-one puts their name on here because we all know you don’t really listen, but just want to defend your agenda and convince us of the righteousness of your position. That’s not true communication.

  • Julie, I know many of us have contacted our board members in the past. We have received either no reply, or that “we don’t comment on personnel.” It’s a waste of time.

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