Lark resigns with $152,500 settlement |

Lark resigns with $152,500 settlement

by Scott Neuffer

Tension building for months in the Douglas County School District reached critical mass Tuesday night with the formal resignation of Superintendent Carol Lark.

Three months after school board members voted 4-3 to extend Lark’s contract, they voted 7-0 to accept her voluntary resignation, effective Nov. 30, and to pay her a lump sum of $135,000, plus $17,500 in accrued vacation.

In exchange, Lark agreed to release all possible legal claims against the district and board of trustees.

“I think this is the best of all options and the only one in front of us that can resolve the issue today,” said board member Sharla Hales. “Each month the district falls short in student achievement, we’re wasting time. Even though this agreement is expensive, continuing as we have would be more costly to the things that matter most.”

“It was a very difficult decision,” Lark told The Record-Courier after the vote. “This is a good school district.”

In her resignation letter, Lark said she wanted to spend more time with her family and grandchildren.

“I have enjoyed working for this school district and I believe that several positive things have been accomplished during my tenure,” she wrote. “I am extremely proud of my involvement in the passage of the bond as well as moving forward in the area of curriculum and instruction. I have always strived to make every decision in the best interest of children.”

Before the vote, district counsel Mike Malloy told board members that the proposed buy-out was the best solution. He said Lark had about 19 months left in her contract, which totaled a little more than $246,000 in salary and benefits.

He said the settlement amount is less than would be paid if Lark were fired. Without sufficient cause, because Lark’s performance was deemed satisfactory in August, the district would have to pay her a minimum of $165,000, taking into account an extra 90-day period in her current contract, Malloy said. Because board members also gave her a raise and extended her now $126,075-a-year contract until June 2011, another year’s salary may have been added onto the $165,000 figure.

Plus, involuntary termination could open the door for a lawsuit, Malloy said.

“This proposal is, I stress the word, a compromise,” he said. “In my experience, usually a good compromise is one where both parties leave unhappy.”

Hired in 2006, Lark came under fire during her annual evaluation in June over an ongoing conflict between her and other employees in the district. Board members continued the evaluation until August, when they voted 4-3 for her contract extension. Board members Tom Moore, Teri Jamin and Hales voted against the extension and later picked up the support of member Keith Roman to amend the vote, adding the condition that the board adopt an improvement plan geared at resolving the issues between Lark and her staff, including the use of a professional mediator.

That mediator, consultant Jim Huge of San Francisco, whom the district used when Lark was originally hired, attended Tuesday’s meeting.

“I want to thank Carol and you seven board members for the professional way you’ve dealt with this,” he said.

Board member Randy Green said he was saddened that the situation couldn’t be resolved.

“I wanted it to work out because educationally it’s the best example for students. I’m sad it didn’t work out, but it’s a waste of time to assign blame,” Green said. “This is the most expedient and economically efficient way to move on.”

With tears running down her face, Board President Cindy Trigg thanked Lark for her work.

“I do know you came forward voluntarily in the best interests of the kids,” she said.

Roman also thanked Lark for her work and said it’s time to start fresh.

“It’s time for this board to move on and re-energize ourselves on behalf of the district of Douglas County,” he said.

Board members set a meeting for 5 p.m. Wednesday at Douglas High School to determine the process of hiring an interim superintendent.

Despite rumors of potential candidates, Huge said, “Only the seven of you can hire the interim and next superintendent. I encourage you not to get caught up in the ‘who’ until we have a process.”

Huge said at this point, his independent contract with the district totals about $15,000. He said he will attend Wednesday’s meeting to assist board members in their search for the next superintendent.