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posted: 7/11/2010 12:01 AM

Time to gag all school chief secrecy

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Palatine Township Elementary District 15's taxpayers are on the hook to pay former Superintendent Dan Lukich $185,000 in return for no work by him next year, unless he happens to get a full-time administrator position with another district.

The taxpayers apparently never will know why Lukich is being paid to leave because the school board signed a deal with him that includes a gag order.

It's the taxpayers who are left gagging.

The separation agreement signed by Lukich and board members said it is not to be construed in any way as an admission of any "liability or wrongdoing" by the board or by Lukich.

We believe school board members who agree to gag orders and confidentiality agreements are doing wrong and we call upon them to end this practice now.

Lukich is being paid nearly his full $202,000 salary next year to go away and no one is saying why. Also being withheld from public scrutiny is a letter of reference created for Lukich to help him find another job. If he finds an administrator job, District 15 taxpayers still will pay Lukich $23,500. If Lukich finds any other kind of job, including one helping find superintendent candidates for other districts, he will get that new salary and the $185,000 from District 15's taxpayers. He'll also get his health insurance, and another $10,000-plus for unused vacation time. Meanwhile, the taxpayers likely will have to cough up another healthy compensation package for an interim superintendent.

This pay to go play elsewhere in the world of school districts ought to make all of us sick.

We expect school board members will say it's a standard in the superintendent world; that they must offer confidentiality and such go-away agreements to remain competitive. We say, tough. It's time for you to get tougher. It's time to stand for openness and accountability. The deals with suburban superintendents lately demonstrate none of that.

Last year, in Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200, board members misled constituents for weeks telling them their superintendent was on extended vacation. Months after extending his contract, board members wanted him gone and the fine print called for everyone to stay mum. Earlier this year, Lake Park High School District 108 Superintendent John Butts resigned suddenly. Neither school board members nor Butts would comment on the reason for his departure beyond saying it was time for a change. A few months ago, the Daily Herald uncovered that a Wisconsin district's leadership essentially lied by omission in praising a business superintendent while failing to disclose he had been on paid leave for more than a year. Grayslake Elementary District 46 unwittingly hired the business chief and then fired him.

Top school administrators are not private people. They are public employees in high profile positions of leadership. And the board members who hire them are elected to positions of public trust. The sweet departure deals and the secrecy simply must stop.