Hamilton school board defends resignation deal for ex-superintendent

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Hamilton school board revealed during meeting some of their reasons behind silence on resignation agreement with former superintendent.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Former superintendent Tony Orr ‘could not effectively lead this district in the future,’ school board says.

Hamilton school board members have revealed for the first time some motivations behind paying out nearly a quarter of a million dollars to a former superintendent and why they say an investigative report is not public.

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The Hamilton Board of Education during its Tuesday evening meeting departed from it’s usual stance of declining to comment on Orr’s resignation, prodded in part by criticism from some school parents, including calls for some members’ resignations.

The board released a statement contending the members took the best, quickest, cheapest course of action by agreeing to pay former Hamilton Superintendent Tony Orr through July followed by a payment of $130,000 as a part of his resignation agreement.

“Given the content in the report, it was the collective feelings of all board of education members that Mr. Orr could not effectively lead this district in the future,” wrote board members in their Tuesday statement.

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The investigative report, launched by the board after they placed Orr on paid leave on Feb. 5, included dozens of interviews with school employees and two interviews with Orr.

“As a public employee Mr. Orr would be entitled to a hearing officer. A termination hearing could last months at the cost of a minimum of $250,000 in addition to dollars used in the investigation. This dollar amount does not include the amount of work that would have been missed by employees (interviewed) during the termination process,” the board’s statement said.

“The emotional trauma placed on the district, staff, parents and the community would have been extremely difficult … a termination hearing can go on for months or even a year,” they stated.

“In the end, there was no guaranteed result of the termination hearing. It was a possibility the initial ruling would be overturned and Mr. Orr would return as the superintendent for Hamilton City Schools. This was simply an unacceptable solution for the BOE (board of education), where his inability to lead would have been a significant step backwards for our district,” they said.

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Orr has said he resigned for personal reasons and through his attorney has declined to comment further regarding the circumstances surrounding his departure from the city school system he had led since 2015.

The board’s statement also re-iterated its previous, oft-stated stance that the investigative report, which the Journal-News has sought unsuccessfully via multiple Ohio public records requests, is a document covered by attorney-client privilege.

But on Tuesday, board members cited other reasons for the keeping the investigation report from the public.

“Staff interviewed were told that the information shared would be kept confidential. To that end, the board feels obliged to protect the identities of those individuals involved,” according to the board’s statement.

Moreover, the board said “staff interviewed were candid, honest and felt protected due to this understanding.”

The Journal-News’ reporting of the allegations against Orr by two female school employees — as detailed in their attorney’s letter to the school board — was done by this media outlet’s decision to not reveal their names, or otherwise identify them, in order to protect their anonymity given the sensitive nature of their allegations, which included sexual harassment.

The board stated, “according to the district attorney, nothing illegal occurred and the BOE had no interest in bringing any additional charges or a lawsuit forth.”

Hamilton school parent Craig Mills, who is the husband of former school board candidate Anne Vaaler Mills, blasted the board — and members Steve Isgro, Rob Weigel and Scott Kruger in particular, for approving Orr’s resignation agreement.

“In the report you guys are trying to hide, with the findings you got and the allegations against Tony Orr, he should have been fired on the spot,” said Mills, who also called for Isgro, Weigel and Kruger to resign.

“How he (Orr) went out of here with $200,000 is beyond me,” he said.

Weigel responded in part by saying “we did the best thing for the taxpayers.”

Fellow district parent Cathy Combs questioned the board’s explanation as to why the investigative report, which board members contend they have never had a copy of but were verbally told by their attorney of it’s contents, is not made public.

“If you paid that attorney to do his job, the report belongs to you,” said Combs.

Kruger, who is a private attorney, said “the board is frustrated to an extent as well because most people don’t seem to understand there is such a thing as attorney-client privilege.”

Hamilton’s attorney is this case is William Deters II, who has declined numerous requests by the Journal-News for the investigative report.

“We have an attorney who is telling us that until he gives us permission that we need to remain silent on these issues. Part of the reason is there is possible litigation involved,” Kruger said.

“For some reason it appears as though the brunt of frustration has landed on the board’s shoulders, so we’re frustrated as well because we do have an opinion on several issues — and we’d like to disclose them — but if it’s not coming from our attorney it would be improper for us to disclose that,” he said.

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