Coatesville Not Hoerner's First Contract Buy-out

Posted: November 01, 1987

In the last four years, Coatesville school Superintendent Henry Hoerner has struck deals to receive a total of $295,444 by agreeing to contract buy-outs

from two different school districts.

On Oct. 22, Hoerner, who was hired as Coatesville Superintendent in 1985, was forced to resign when the school board agreed to buy out his contract, which was to expire in 1989.

Hoerner's resignation was the culmination of a dispute between him and the board over money and staffing that had raged almost since his hiring.

This was not the first time Hoerner had been bought out by an angry school board.

Before becoming Coatesville superintendent, Hoerner was superintendent of the Lower Dauphin School District outside of Harrisburg for 19 years. In 1984, the Lower Dauphin school board voted to buy out his contract with an agreement that is almost identical to the Coatesville buy-out.

In both buy-outs, the school boards agreed to pay Hoerner more than $100,000 in lost salary and more than $20,000 for unused sick days and unused vacation time.

Both buy-out agreements also called for the boards to foot the bills for Hoerner to attend national educational conventions, and each agreement included clauses forbidding Hoerner or school board members to criticize each other or discuss the agreements.

Hoerner would not comment on the buy-out agreements, saying only that "as a general principle those agreements are drawn up by lawyers, not superintendents."

The Coatesville buy-out agreement allows Hoerner to maintain the title of superintendent until June 30, 1988. However, the agreement virtually strips him of any administrative power by Jan. 6, 1988.

The school board voted, 7-2, to give Hoerner a total of $162,444 in salary and sick-day reimbursements and 10 years' worth of medical insurance coverage.

That salary agreement is similar to the one struck with officials in Lower Dauphin four years earlier. That buy-out gave Hoerner a total of $134,000 in lost salary and sick-day reimbursements. Hoerner also received medical insurance in Lower Dauphin until he was hired in Coatesville in 1985.

The Coatesville agreement calls for the district to pay for Hoerner to attend the American Association of School Administrators convention in Las Vegas in February, giving him up to $500 for meals and expenses.

The Lower Dauphin agreement allowed Hoerner to attend four educational conventions - two in Pennsylvania and two national conventions - at the district's expense.

The 1984 buy-out agreement included a clause allowing the Lower Dauphin board members to say Hoerner was asked to leave because of "philisophical disagreements," but forbidding them to say anything critical about him.

The Coatesville agreement is almost identical, including a clause stating that school district officials will "refrain from making any critical remarks about the other party to any other person or the media."

Several former Coatesville school board members who served on the board when Hoerner was hired said they were not aware of Hoerner's Lower Dauphin buy-out agreement when they hired him.

Robert Reymos, who was on the school board from 1983 until resigning in August, said the 1985 school board hired John Baillie, director of the Chester County Intermediate Unit, to head the search for a new superintendent.

"He was asked to go and find anything pro or con about Dr. Hoerner," Reymos said. "But, because of this so-called gag rule on the (Lower Dauphin) buy-out agreement, nobody said anything bad."

Ethel Backenstose, who also served on the board in 1985, said that although she had heard about Hoerner's previous buy-out, nobody knew the details.

"We were told it was due to philisophical changes on the school board and that was all we were told."

Shortly after Hoerner was hired in Coatesville, an election caused a shift in the majority of the school board, leaving Hoerner with few supporters.

Since then, Hoerner and board members have consistently clashed on personnel, budget and curriculum issues, bickering in public and dragging board meetings on for hours.

Last week, some teachers and principals said they were glad the school board agreed to buy out the superintendent, even if the cost was high.

But other people, including one of the current school board members who voted against the agreement, said the buy-out gives Hoerner too much money.

William Washington, who last week voted along with Andrew Smith against the buy-out, said he did so because he disagreed with the buy-out agreement.

"I'm 100 percent for getting rid of the superintendent, but I can't go along with that agreement," Washington said. "It's going to put a burden on the taxpayer."

Ted Reed, Coatesville city manager, said he was unsure how the current buy- out would effect taxpayers.

"But," he said, "my opinion is that the school superintendent sure is a whale of a negotiator."

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