Severance Pay Is Called Buyout For School Chief

Posted: October 27, 1989

The $165,000 severance pay that Palmyra's school board will pay its resigning superintendent is a buyout of his tenure based on two years' salary plus 8.3 percent in raises and benefits, according to several school board members.

Superintendent Daniel Mastrobuono, whose resignation is effective Wednesday, was earning nearly $67,000 a year.

Three board members who asked to remain anonymous said in interviews this week that Mastrobuono told the board he would not resign unless all its members agreed to keep the details of the resignation and the payment secret.

Board members also said that the board had a "personality clash" with Mastrobuono but nothing so serious that they could unilaterally sever his tenure. As a result, they said, the board had to negotiate a buyout to replace him.

Mastrobuono could not be reached this week and has declined comment since his resignation was announced Sept. 19.

Board Solicitor Stephen Mushinski confirmed in a telephone interview Wednesday that the $165,000 "was calculated to include two years' salary plus added amenities." He said he did not know whether raises were included in the payment.

Mushinski also said that Mastrobuono and his attorneys drafted the provision that barred board members from discussing the resignation. "They felt it was a critical part of the agreement," Mushinski said. "It wouldn't be in his best interest to have potentially defamatory statements coming out after the fact that would jeopardize his chance of getting another job."

Mushinski defended the board's self-imposed gag order, saying that confidentiality was important to protect the reputations of professionals.

One board member said that one of the board's difficulties with Mastrobuono was that he would not allow his staff to talk to board members, and that he insisted that all communications with the board come through him. Many members of the board ultimately came to distrust the superintendent, one board member said.

Although the size and secretiveness of the buyout irked some residents, Burlington County Prosecutor Stephen G. Raymond determined last week that the resignation agreement was legal. He had investigated the matter because the buyout agreement said it was in settlement for Mastrobuono's "personal injury claim," which could have been a misuse of taxpayers' money.

But Raymond found that the payment was only made to buy out Mastrobuono's tenure, not to settle a claim. He said the buyout was legal and it was "not his business" to determine whether the amount was appropriate.

Three of the nine members on the board voted last month against the buyout, saying that the payment was too high. Last week the board voted to rescind the agreement and asked Mastrobuono to stay, but he declined. Thus, the agreement still stood.

"Whether it was a good deal would have to be left up to the taxpayers," Raymond said.

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