Prior to its last full board meeting, and just before next month’s swearing-in of newly elected Democratic directors, the outgoing Republican school board majority secretly drafted a potentially illegal severance package for the now-former Superintendent Abram Lucabaugh.
Legal counsel representing incoming Democratic school board directors Dana Foley, Susan Gibson, Rick Haring, and Heather Reynolds advised the board in a letter that their proposed payout to Lucabaugh “is unlawful, void, and unenforceable.”
“The proposed Separation Agreement is unlawful on multiple fronts,” wrote attorney Brendan W. Flynn of Curtin and Heefner.
According to Flynn, the total payments proposed are in excess of what is permitted by law. “The legislature has made it clear that severance payments must be capped at the value of one year of salary and benefits,” he wrote.
The separation agreement, orchestrated by outgoing school board President Dana Hunter, was drafted by an attorney whose identity she refused to make public. The severance package also comes just a few months after the board renegotiated Lucabaugh’s five year contract, which was not due to expire until 2026, and increased his salary by 40 percent, or $85,000, for no apparent reason.
Flynn also advised that legal precedent is explicit in this instance and prohibits departing elected officials from obstructing or interfering with their successor’s ability to carry out their official duties.
Garen Meguerian, an attorney specializing in First Amendment and employment law, reviewed the proposal for the Bucks County Beacon.
“As an employment lawyer with nearly thirty years of experience, I’ve never seen a severance agreement as one-sided as this. Typically, these types of agreements are negotiated by parties at arm’s length,” he said. “Here, it appears that both sides aimed to maximize the compensation and payout of the superintendent at great cost to the taxpayers and the school district.”
Meguerian said that to get around the statutory prohibition against excessive severance payments, the Lucabaugh agreement includes the statutory maximum as “severance.” The other payments, he advised, such as compensation for unused sick time are usually part of, not in addition to the severance, and could be viewed as a “double dip.”
The payout proposed by the far-right Republican board majority includes:
– Severance “Lump Sum” Salary: $315,000
– Unused Vacation: $32,105.81
– Unused Sick Time For 2022-2023: $30,288.50
– Unused Accumulated Sick Time For Prior Years: $235,038.76
– Unused Personal Days: $4,240.39
– Unused Emergency/Administrative Days: $6,215.20
– Severance Contribution To Tax Shelter Annuity: $15,750
– Settlement For Signing Agreement: $50,000
– Health insurance benefits, through June 20, 2024, for Lucabaugh, his spouse and eligible dependents.
– Lucabaugh may also take a laptop that was paid for by the school district.
“The board members involved in this may have also exposed themselves to individual liability, including for breaching the fiduciary duties they owe to the taxpayers,” he added.
The residue of this Republican fiscal and legal irresponsibility is also an issue that won’t go unaddressed, as Flynn noted in his letter.
“There will be serious consequences for current Board members who support this egregious misuse of taxpayer dollars,” he wrote. “The new Board will be expected to utilize all available remedies to protect the School District.”
Over the last two years, the GOP school board majority has been reckless with taxpayer dollars by engaging Duane Morris, a high-priced Philadelphia law firm to conduct a sham investigation to refute allegations in an OCR complaint, along with a public relations firm who billed the district $144,000 for nine months of work before abruptly resigning.
“Apparently, getting crushed in last week’s election did not send a message to these people on the school board,” said state Senator Steve Santarsiero who chairs the Bucks County Democratic Committee. “They were soundly rejected by the voters of the Central Buck School District, and notwithstanding that, they voted in favor of a severance deal that is clearly illegal on its face and, I am sure if contested in court, will be invalidated.”
Eugene DePasquale, a Democratic candidate running for state attorney general, and whose extensive history of service to the Commonwealth includes two terms as Auditor General and three terms as a State Representative, weighed in on the Lucabaugh separation agreement.
“When the new board comes in, I would highly recommend them to challenge the validity of this. First of all, even if the court rules it’s legal, and I doubt whether it’s legal, but you start off with that … it’s just outrageous, it’s abusing the taxpayer,” he said. “This needs to be challenged and that’s particularly important because the message needs to be sent that this is not going to be accepted across the state as people leave office.”
“At the very least, these actions appear to be in contravention of Pennsylvania’s laws designed to limit the amount of severance payable to superintendents who fail to complete the terms of their contract,” Meguerian said. “If challenged, I would expect the payout to be closely scrutinized by the court.”