Brian Harris ended his 4-year tenure as superintendent of Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 Thursday with more than four years left on a recently inked five-year contract.
He acknowledged the abrupt departure to become superintendent of Barrington Unit District 220 during a special District 200 board meeting Thursday afternoon.
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"I was not expecting, at least a month and a half ago, to be sitting here today having this conversation," he said. "What happens sometimes, though, is you get recruited, you get an opportunity that's in front of you, and it was very, very difficult not to consider it."
The board voted 5-2 to approve a separation agreement for Harris that requires him, along with other duties, to help the district identify at least five qualified candidates to replace him. One board member objected to waiving a $40,000 penalty the district could have imposed for Harris breaking his contract with less than 180 days notice; another suggested the procedure for replacing Harris is inadequate.
But board President Barbara Intihar said because of that stipulation, the board will not be hiring a consultant to help with the search process for a new superintendent.
Harris's last day working for District 200 with pay was Thursday. He will start his new duties Friday as deputy superintendent of District 220 and then become the district's superintendent on July 1. He will be paid $260,000 a year.
"It's probably the only place that would have worked for me at this point in time, given the circumstances," he said, adding that he has many personal and professional connections in Barrington after working in the district for five years in the late 1990s.
Harris said, however, that it has been a privilege and honor to work as the superintendent of District 200, and the past few weeks have been filled with mixed emotions.
"I'm sad, but also very excited," he said, adding that he is proud of everything he has accomplished with the help of the board and district staff since taking on the role in 2010.
In addition, the board unanimously approved the appointment of Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services Faith Dahlquist as interim superintendent as they search for a permanent replacement. Dahlquist will be paid $300 a day to take on the role until Aug. 31, or until the new superintendent is chosen.
Harris said he alerted the board of his intention to accept an offer from District 220 on May 14. The board met multiple times in closed session to develop a separation agreement.
"We went through this process very diligently in a short period of time," Intihar said.
According to Intihar, the board decided against invoking the $40,000 penalty because it's "making lemonade out of lemons."
"We could get $40,000 and have you say goodbye today and not see you again, and I don't think that would be good for the students, the staff and the community of District 200," she said. "This way we'll have a smooth transition."
Harris's contract was approved less than a year ago and set to expire June 30, 2018.
"The next person we bring in, we hope we can retain them longer," Intihar said.
The contract set Harris's base salary at $215,000 with an increase each year that equaled 0.5 percent plus the consumer price index, or 5 percent of the prior year's base salary -- whichever was less. Harris also had opportunities to receive performance-based raises each year.
Board member Jim Gambaiani said while he appreciates Harris' willingness to assist the district during the transition period, he didn't think it justified the board's decision to waive the $40,000 separation fee.
"I cannot reconcile this financial element of the agreement," he said before voting no to the agreement.
Board member Jim Mathieson also voted no. He said he has been very pleased with Harris' performance, but said he believes the district will face a disruptive period before a new superintendent is in place.
Mathieson added that five potential leads were not enough, and asked why the board was moving so quickly, especially since members weren't given an opportunity to review the situation with members of the community.
The separation agreement also requires Harris' attendance at the final Engage200 community engagement session next month and assistance with ongoing collective bargaining negotiations.
"I will work diligently to meet every single one of those (duties), not only because they're listed there but because it's the right thing to do," he said.