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Opinion

Lancaster must end silence on superintendent buyout

Accountability and tough questions are needed to reveal the truth.

When the Lancaster school board recently decided to extend Superintendent Elijah Granger’s contract only to buy out the new five-year agreement a few days later, the first word that came to mind was incompetence.

As this embarrassment rolls on, we think there is a better word: outrageous.

According to court documents presented as part of a legal effort to block the payout, Granger was on pace to walk away with $2,036,567 — the full salary and benefits he would have earned under the new contract. In addition, he would get to stay on the district’s payroll until Feb. 1 with the title “superintendent emeritus” and have his legal fees covered.

This isn’t a golden parachute; it is a platinum parachute, a severance package so large and excessive that it could trigger the state to carve back about $1.8 million from state funding to the district. So in effect, the board turned a $2 million fiasco into nearly a $4 million fiasco.

The clawback provision is designed to prevent taxpayer dollars from financing massive, irresponsible exit packages and keep school boards focused on their fiduciary and educational responsibilities.

But apparently, this school board, or at least a portion of it, is blind to the optics and to the financial reality that public dollars are being spent without any public explanation from the elected officials who made this call. Buyout dollars don’t go into the classroom, or into teacher salaries, or pay for the stiff costs of educating students in the midst of a pandemic. At the very least, this fiasco is a crying shame and embarrassment.

Few things are as infuriating as unaccountable elected officials who want public trust and support and then clam up when the heat is turned up. We don’t expect Granger to turn down the buyout, though he should, but we do expect trustees who made these decisions to fess up about how the district got itself in this mess and correct it.

Board President Ellen Clark, who lost her bid for reelection this month, told The Dallas Morning News that board members knew the state would penalize the district when they signed off on the buyout. But she too turned mum when asked about the reasons, noting to our reporter that she still supports Granger and that the buyout “was the best thing to do.”

And that is the problem with this deal. It is being treated like a state secret in the hope that taxpayers won’t notice and this muck will just quietly disappear. Our reporters found a 2018 legislative brief that showed the average buyout payment to superintendents in 2017 was about $139,000. You don’t need high school math to determine that Granger’s hefty haul is beyond the pale.

And that’s why silence is unacceptable, and state education officials should be looking for the answers that the school board wants to keep a secret.

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Dallas Morning News Editorial. Dallas Morning News editorials are written by the paper's Editorial Board and serve as the voice and view of the paper. The board considers a broad range of topics and is overseen by the Editor of Editorials.

editorialboard@dallasnews.com @dmnopinion
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