POTTSTOWN PA – There’s a good reason, a contractual one, why the public may never know what caused the Pottsgrove School District and Michelle Bozzini, former principal of its Ringing Rocks Elementary School, to part ways.
The separation and release agreement between them, approved in early January by the Board of School Directors, dictates that both sides “will not take any actions, or make any public statements … including, but not limited to, negative or derogatory statements … that would in any way denigrate, disparage or defame the good will or reputation of the other party.”
The parties’ signatures on the separation agreement between Pottsgrove and Michelle Bozzini, approved Jan.8
By signing the document, Bozzini and Pottsgrove have apparently acknowledged that, except possibly for trading compliments and best wishes, mum’s the word on their rift.
The comprehensive, 10-page agreement, which includes some details of the terms of Bozzini’s “leave of absence” from Ringing, was obtained Friday (Feb. 1, 2013) by The Post. It was first released to The (Pottstown PA) Mercury newspaper, and its reporter Evan Brandt, in response to a right-to-know request they filed Jan. 23, seeking several documents.
“The school district took direction from its legal counsel on the separation and release agreements, particularly with regard to the confidentiality clause that prohibits us from discussing details,” Superintendent Shellie Feola explained in an e-mail sent later Friday to The Post. The documents’ release was required under Open Record Laws, she added, “but due to the confidentiality … we’re not able to comment further on the specifics.”
The agreement indicates Bozzini “irrevocably” resigned from her position Jan. 8, but her tenure will not end until May 31. Until then, it says she will receive her salary, “draw down” nine remaining vacation days, and continue to have her and her family covered by district medical and life insurance plans. She also will not be challenged by the district in any filing for future unemployment benefits, it states.
If Bozzini goes job-hunting at a later date, the agreement also stipulates, any potential employer who asks Pottsgrove for information about her departure will be told only her former job title, the length of her employment, and her compensation at the time of the separation.
Human resources experts suggest such terms are usually standard fare in separations between executives – which, as principal, could have been a description suitable for Bozzini – and their employers.
It does mean, however, that during the four-month period between February and May, Pottsgrove will pay two individuals for the same position: Bozzini and her successor, Barbara Guy, who is under a separate contract with the district to earn $500 per work day through June 30 as Ringing Rocks’ interim principal. Guy was scheduled to start work Wednesday (Jan. 30).
The combined sums likely amount to thousands of dollars, but Feola’s e-mail statement suggested they could have been significantly higher.
“These were personnel and legal matters that, if drawn out, could have cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and even more in settlement awards,” the superintendent wrote. “Our solicitor advised that we settle both of these cases, and we followed that recommendation. As always, we do what we feel is best for the integrity of the school district – financially and ethically – as well as for the stability of the school leadership.”
Given Bozzini’s consent, the agreement specifies she has “unconditionally” released Pottsgrove from any and all claims she may have filed, or might consider filing, against it.
Feola’s reference to “both of these cases” includes a second but different separation agreement, approved by directors the same night, which involves a former teacher and was unrelated to Bozzini’s resignation. That agreement was among the other documents requested and received Friday by The Mercury.
Since the board’s acceptance of Bozzini’s resignation, Brandt contended the separation agreement should have been made public if it involved an expenditure of district funds. The district initially declined its release, prompting his right-to-know request. It then announced it could take up to Feb. 18 to respond, and said its attorneys were determining whether the document represented “a public record subject to access.”
Feola’s admission in her e-mail that the district was complying “with the PA Right To Know Laws by the release of this information as requested” seemingly shows Brandt was correct.