Former Kingsville Independent School District Superintendent Elida Bera submitted her resignation to the Board of Trustees in September, but district records show that Bera remains on the payroll as part of a separation agreement.
The Kingsville Record obtained a copy of Bera’s separation agreement, along with her employment contract with the Kingsville ISD, through an open records request made in late January. In it, a number of terms are outlined for how the district will pay out her severance, as well as other stipulations between the two parties.
What does the agreement say?
Bera was named the lone finalist for the position on Nov. 1, 2018 and assumed the role of KISD superintendent 21 days later, on Nov. 27. According to her contract with the school district, Bera’s initial term of employment was through June 30, 2021 with an annual salary of $165,000.
Other benefits in the contract included vacation and personal leave, health insurance, cell phone and automobile stipends, mileage reimbursement along with a maximum of $6,000 for relocation and moving expenses.
Bera resigned from the KISD superintendent position Sept. 23, 2019, less than 10 months into her tenure, which the school board accepted in a 4-3 split vote. According to Texas Education Code 21.212(e), a superintendent may resign from a district at any time with the consent of the district’s board of trustees.
According to her separation agreement with the Kingsville ISD, Bera and the school board reached a “mutually acceptable agreement for Bera to resign her position as Superintendent of the District effective as of April 1, 2020.”
That means Bera remains on the district’s payroll until that date, though she was placed on administrative leave and is unable to fulfill any of the duties that come with being an administrator or superintendent for the district.
The agreement outlines a severance payment of $82,500, representing six month’s salary, with “full contractual benefits” minus those waived as part of the agreement.
According to the agreement, the severance payments “shall be made in regular installments that reflect the District’s standard payroll schedule for the Superintendent and shall continue up to Bera’s resignation date of April 1, 2019, or until the full sum of $82,500 is paid.”
The agreement also specifies a maximum reimbursement of $6,000 for relocation and moving expenses, and that Bera’s “employment and health benefits” continue to April 1 and count towards her retirement through the Teacher Retirement System.
However, should Bera obtain employment with another school district or employer that covers her retirement and employment benefits prior to April 1, the KISD would then “cease all benefits payments and TRS calculations and forward any remaining balance of Payment to Bera in a lump-sum payoff.”
As part of the separation agreement, both parties also confirmed that neither would disparage the other nor disclose the terms of the agreement.
Is this normal?
Attorney John Bell of the Corpus Christi firm Wood, Boykin and Wolter P.C. – who has in the past represented both superintendents and school districts in the area – said in a phone interview Monday that the separation agreement between Bera and the KISD was “pretty ordinary.”
“Superintendents in school districts are really unusual in that they have multi-year contracts,” Bell said. “And so if you don’t have clean grounds for termination for cause, which are challenging, they (the superintendent) have a contractual right to compensation to the end of the two, three or four years, or whatever they have left on the contract.”
Bell said having the agreement go through April rather than a lump-sum payment is likely to allow the superintendent to “get another service credit with the Teacher Retirement System.” Those credits affect how much an educator or administrator is paid upon retirement.
“I would consider that a pretty ordinary termination agreement for a school superintendent,” he said. “They could’ve made it $120,000 and she’d be off the payroll now, and it would’ve been the same (amount of) money, but the reason to keep her on the payroll is probably to get her another year of service credit with TRS, which is important for retirement.”
As for the relocation and moving expenses, Bell said “it’s just money.”
“Whether you’re calling it a lump-sum payment or a relocation expense, it’s still a payment to go away,” he said.
In 2018, the Santa Gertrudis ISD Board of Trustees approved a resignation agreement in which the district has agreed to pay a lump-sum of $100,000 to separate with their former superintendent, Corey Seymour, prior to the expiration of his contract.
Seymour had served as the Santa Gertrudis ISD superintendent since June 2016 and had a contract with the SGISD through June 2022, having previously been granted a contract extension from the board.