INDIANAPOLIS -- Outgoing Perry Township Schools superintendent Dr. Thomas Little received a $325,000 payout after the school board terminated his contract more than two years early.
Call 6 Investigates has been fighting for more information about the deal since the school board announced May 8 it “voted to discontinue the district’s employment relationship with Dr. Thomas J. Little as Superintendent.”
At the time, the board called the agreement a “confidential matter.”
Call 6 Investigates pressed the elected board members for why it cut ties with Little even though his contract was not up until June 30, 2019 and how much the agreement cost the taxpayers.
Board members directed Call 6 Investigates Kara Kenney to their attorney, Séamus Boyce, who said because the matter was not a disciplinary action the district did not have to give a reason for Little’s contract termination.
An Important Message from the Board: pic.twitter.com/sz00PVc7TT
— Perry Schools (@PerryTwpSchools) May 8, 2017
Boyce also provided a link to Little’s contract, but did not answer whether the board exercised a “no fault” provision that would provide Little with a $325,000 payment.
“As the Board has shared, Dr. Little’s contributions and accomplishments are valued and they do not plan on providing further description of the decision to discontinue his employment as Superintendent,” said Boyce in a May 19 response to Kenney. “Perry Township Schools looks forward to the future, including the completion of classroom renovations in the elementary schools and the opening of four new kindergarten academies.”
The average teacher in Perry Township Schools earns about $54,000, state records show.
Little’s base salary was $195,200, not counting perks and benefits.
Call 6 Investigates filed a formal complaint with the Indiana Public Access Counselor against Perry Township Schools in an effort to learn more about how much Little received after he cut ties with the district.
On July 10, Public Access Counselor Luke Britt issued a four page opinion in which he raised concerns about the school district’s response, calling it “misleading.”
“Even the meeting minutes do not mention any reference to a buyout, written notice of cancelation or discussion of any personnel matter that would remotely qualify as ‘confidential’,” read the opinion. “The buyout to the sum of $325,00 is a substantial amount of money for any public employee or official and is going to raise suspicion and curiosity. To be dismissive of this consideration is imprudent.”
Britt said compensation, including buyout and settlement amounts, must be disclosed upon request under Indiana law.
Following Britt’s opinion, the school district’s attorney confirmed the board authorized a $325,000 payment to Little.
Little is not the first school superintendent to get a payout that raised eyebrows.
Indianapolis Public Schools paid former superintendent Dr. Eugene White $800,000 after the board allowed White to retire despite more than a year left on his contract.
Call 6 Investigates also exposed former Wayne Township superintendent Terry Thompson’s $1 million payout, which resulted in a new state law that calls for more transparency in superintendent contracts.
When state lawmakers expressed outrage about Thompson’s payout in 2011, Little testified and defended superintendent compensation.
"Superintendent pay across the board is based on productivity and based on their success in that district. We ask members of the committee to protect the authority of our local school boards,” Little said in 2011 as he spoke at a legislative hearing.
As of July 1, it is now illegal for a school superintendent to receive a contract buyout of $250,000 or more, or more than a year’s salary, whichever is the lesser amount.
Sen. Erin Houchin (R-Milltown) drafted Senate Bill 182 after becoming frustrated at buyouts all over the state.
“Our school corporations, when they're really looking for every dollar they have to put into the classroom, it's not fair to taxpayers or teachers or school students to put that extra financial burden on them,” said Houchin. “ And that's why I initially drafted Senate Bill 182. "We had seen contract buyouts in excess of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and in some cases up to a million dollars where you’re ultimately having to pay one superintendent to leave and then another superintendent to do the job. It was out of that concern that I drafted Senate Bill 182.”
Any contracts created before June 30, 2017, including Little’s, would not be impacted by the new law.
The $250,000 cap on payouts does not include any fringe benefits, such as car and cell phone allowances.
In addition to the $250,000 cap on buyouts, the legislation also limits superintendent contracts to three years for the initial and subsequent contracts can not be more than five years.
Houchin said it’s necessary to protect taxpayer money and pointed to an example.
“One superintendent was asking for a 9 year contract,” said Houchin. “If she was granted that, the buyout would have been 1 to 2 million dollars."
Houchin said school districts should absolutely be transparent about superintendent compensation.
“I’m certainly a believer in the right for taxpayers and the public to know about these contracts,” said Houchin. “These are tax dollars we need to safe guard.”
Perry Township Schools board meeting minutes from October show Little had been battling an illness and had been out on medical leave.
Records show Little has been absent from many recent school board meetings since July 2016.
However, it is not clear if he was on medical leave when the board terminated his contract.
Also, no one from the district has said whether Little’s illness was the reason for ending his contract early.
Call 6 Investigates did a public records request for his performance evaluations, but the district declined, saying they are confidential personnel records.
Little is a former Superintendent of the Year with more than 35 years of experience in education.
Call 6 Investigates was unable to reach Little for comment.