BY JOE GYAN JR.
and Charles Lussier
Advocate staff writers
March 01, 2013
East Baton Rouge Parish School Superintendent Bernard Taylor sued his former employer Thursday, claiming the Grand Rapids, Mich., Public School District breached an agreement to pay him more than $330,000 in severance pay.
Taylor was the superintendent of that district from 2006 to 2012 and left to take his current job in Baton Rouge in June 2012.
In an interview Thursday, Taylor said he is sad the dispute has turned into litigation. He said he enjoyed his time in Grand Rapids and still hopes the matter can be resolved without the need for expensive litigation.
“I tried to resolve this in a way that was amicable and professional, and those efforts were rebuffed,” Taylor said.
Taylor’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Michigan, claims the Grand Rapids district violated a separation agreement that both parties entered into in June 2011. The suit claims Taylor was to receive a $330,600 severance payment in June 2012.
Taylor’s attorney, Katherine Smith Kennedy, said the Grand Rapids district — despite having the funds earmarked and reserved for Taylor in 2012 — has refused to pay any of the money, citing claims of mismanagement and misconduct during Taylor’s active service period. She said the other provisions of the severance agreement were honored.
Kennedy said many of the district’s allegations are either false or greatly exaggerated, and nearly all incidents alleged by the district — even if 100 percent true — would have been known to the Grand Rapids district board when the idea of the severance agreement was discussed and crafted in mid-2011.
Kennedy said Taylor hired her in May 2012 and that same month an attorney for Grand Rapids first let her know that the school district would not be paying their outgoing superintendent.
She said they have since raised issues about Taylor’s leadership and minor expenses.
“Some things they have been detailed with, and some things they have been very vague about,” Kennedy said.
The Grand Rapids school district said in a statement Thursday that it would have no comment on the pending legal matter.
Kennedy said she and Taylor are sympathetic to the school district’s current budget challenges and have reached out to the board repeatedly, asking that the parties enter into mediation, to no avail.
“The district has indicated it would rather litigate this matter and cost the taxpayers what will likely be tens of thousands of dollars in attorney fees and court costs,” Kennedy said. “Not to mention, this case will force the focus off the (Grand Rapids) schools and students that badly need attention when it could have been resolved with a neutral mediator outside of court.”
Taylor’s contract in Grand Rapids was set to expire in June 2015, but elections in fall 2010 decisively shifted the School Board to candidates backed by the local teachers union, which was often at odds with Taylor.
In June 2011, the two sides negotiated a severance that would have paid Taylor for the equivalent of 18 months of work.
David Tatman, president of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, said Taylor informed him earlier this week that he would be suing his former employer.
“It’s not anything that pertains to East Baton Rouge Parish,” Tatman said.