Published Sept. 7, 2023
BY SHAYLA DUTTA
Former superintendent Ted Knight resigned Aug. 11 following a separation and settlement agreement with the Carmel Unified School District Board of Education, prompting questions and confusion from parents and staff regarding the indistinct settlement and large payout.
Knight was hired in 2021 on a three-year contract set to expire June 2024. Amid turmoil stemming from placing former Carmel High School principal Jon Lyons on leave, the board decided to retain an external consultant to conduct a review of Knight’s actions relating to personnel matters Feb. 15. On March 31, Knight was placed on paid administrative leave.
The agreement, finalized in a closed-session meeting, appears to address several issues. Once being placed on leave, the agreement refers to complaints Knight filed against CUSD with the Office of Civil Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as a lawsuit Knight initiated alleging the board had failed to comply with the California Public Records Act.
Term one of the agreement is Knight’s immediate and irrevocable resignation, while the fifth term requires Knight withdraw all of his pending Public Records Act requests, withdraw all of the complaints he lodged against the district and dismiss his lawsuit. The last subsection of term five is payment in exchange for the promises and warranties: $770,000 from CUSD.
The size of the separation payment provoked concerned reactions from parents and students. Although CUSD has paid three separation agreements to superintendents in the past eight years, this was by far the costliest. Christine Davi–a lawyer in Monterey, resident of CUSD and a parent of a child at CHS–has even raised concerns that the agreement was in violation of government code in a letter sent to the board.
California Government Code 53260 (2) requires that “In the case of a district superintendent of schools, for contracts of employment executed on or after January 1, 2016, the maximum cash settlement shall be an amount equal to the monthly salary of the employee multiplied by 12.” Davi also raises the case of Page v. Mira Costa Community College, which holds that payment ceiling applies to “any ‘settlement’ a public employee ‘may receive’ under his or her contract in the event that contract is severed or terminated before the end of the contract term.”
“The case is saying that you don’t get to have your cake and eat it too,” Davi explains. “You don’t get to have your severance pay plus extra added on based on these allegations that haven’t been substantiated. The public policy behind that is they don’t want people in those positions to be paid for not working. It’s taxpayers money. It takes away from the students. It takes away from programs.”
Davi mentions that board president Sara Hinds had indicated her letter would be taken under consideration, and the lawyer expresses hope that the district would address the issues she perceived. She also emphasizes the fact that she had no personal opinion on any current or previous personnel decisions made by the board, is in support of CUSD and is strictly commenting on the legality.
Other community members have taken issue with the dismissal of Knight in the first place.
“I am so disappointed in all of you,” said former CHS attendance secretary Ann Berry at the board meeting Aug. 16. Berry served as the attendance secretary for nearly 49 years until quitting in May. “Ted Knight was one of those people that was transparent. He had ethics. And you just smashed that. And now it’s costing you taxpayers 770k to shut him up and go away.”
Several others who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting expressed cautious optimism, signaling a willingness to move on but highlighted the importance of greater transparency from the board.
At the same meeting, deputy superintendent Sharon Ofek was appointed interim superintendent, although she had already been serving as acting superintendent following the start of Knight’s leave. Knight was CUSD’s sixth superintendent in the last eight years.
CUSD board members declined to comment and the interim superintendent could not be reached for comment before the publication date.