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Outgoing superintendent Ward to receive full salary despite early exit from Franklin

Outgoing Franklin Superintendent Maureen Ward will receive payments equal to a full year’s salary despite her plan to leave the district in December, a year and a half before her contract expires.

The details of Ward’s exit are outlined in a settlement signed in September by her and Kathleen Russo, chairwoman of the SAU 18 school board, which includes Franklin and Hill. It says Ward will be paid on a normal schedule through Dec. 31, and then paid her salary and benefits through the end of the school year in one lump-sum payment Jan. 2. Ward was hired in 2010 and signed a new 3-year contract in 2011. Under that contract, her salary for this year is $126,000, meaning the lump-sum payment will be about $60,000.

Ward is also getting $3,500 from the district to cover legal fees incurred “with reference to her employment and negotiation of this agreement.”

The rest of the terms were redacted in a copy of the agreement obtained by the Monitor under the state’s right-to-know law.

The SAU board will begin searching for an interim superintendent to begin early next year. At a board meeting last week, Russo would not comment on reasons for Ward’s departure, but she recently told the Union Leader that Ward is retiring due to “harassment” by the city council and other city residents.

Russo did not respond to multiple requests for comment this weekend. Reached by email, Ward offered the following comment: “It has been a great pleasure watching staff and students in Franklin and Hill excel in academic growth over the past three years. Their exceptional efforts paid off in multiple assessment forms. I wish them continued success.”

Ward has sought other employment repeatedly during her time in Franklin. This year she was a finalist for at least five superintendent jobs in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. She said she was looking for a job closer to her family.

SAU board meeting minutes from Sept. 9 show that the board voted, 6-5, to accept the settlement agreement. Franklin members Russo, Ray Yonaitis and Karen Grzelak and Hill members Shelly Henry, December Fortin and Nancy Coffin voted in favor of the agreement. Al Warner, Tamara Feener, Chad Carey, Steve Barton and Ed Cogan, all from Franklin, voted against it. Franklin member Peter Heath was not present. Carey’s request for weighted voting, which would give the Franklin members more say because Franklin holds a larger share of the SAU budget, was denied.

Reached this weekend, Warner said he was not against a settlement but wanted to negotiate further as the one signed was the first offer put on the table. He said it is not unusual to pay out an employee’s salary, but he wanted to see if they could agree to a lower number because Franklin’s schools do not have a lot of money.

“I would’ve agreed to (the final settlement) as a second or third offer,” he said. “It’s like buying a house – you don’t just walk in and say, ‘Okay, here’s what I’m offering,’ and leave yourself no room to negotiate.”

On the allegations of harassment, Warner said Ward has been under fire since she began three years ago. He said he never quite understood why, given the district made improvements in several areas during her tenure. The city council has sparred with the district over financial reporting, but Warner said the district’s financial records were a disaster when Ward arrived and her administration has done much to correct that.

During Ward’s tenure, students’ scores on state tests improved and the district received a federal grant to overhaul teaching and learning practices. Under this grant, Franklin was an early adopter of the Common Core State Standards.

But also under Ward’s leadership, a large number of Franklin’s teaching force left and some actions, such as closing the Bessie Rowell school, were met with community displeasure. An April decision by the board not to re-hire Greg Husband as football coach sparked outrage among some community members that culminated in a public hearing where residents spoke unfavorably about two board members and Ward. Husband filed several complaints against Ward at the state level.

Now, the SAU board will begin working with the New Hampshire School Boards Association to find an interim superintendent, with the goal of hiring a full-time superintendent by the end of the school year.

Warner, for his part, said he hopes to find someone who is willing to continue the successful initiatives already under way and someone who is “adept at building bridges.”

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @kronayne.)

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