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UPDATE: Lawsuit averted as Porter agrees to exit deal with District 833

District 833 Superintendent Mark Porter

The South Washington County School District is providing Mark Porter a severance payment, cashed-out vacation and sick time and retirement benefits in a deal that averts a threatened lawsuit from the ousted superintendent.

Under terms of his contract and an agreement reached last week, Porter will receive a severance of $36,758 in addition to cashed-out vacation and sick-leave hours and nearly $21,000 in his retirement account.

Porter and the District 833 School Board's attorney said in separate interviews the agreement represents an amicable separation. The board had voted in December not to renew Porter's contract, which expires in June.

The agreement was reached came after the board met in closed session on Thursday, May 24, to discuss a threatened lawsuit by Porter related to a dispute over his contract. Board members met with their attorney, Mick Waldspurger, for about 30 minutes in private and then took a public unanimous vote to offer Porter the package.

In exchange, Porter waives his right to sue the district.

Board members did not publicly discuss the decision, and neither Porter nor Waldspurger would elaborate on the threatened lawsuit.

"The clear threat was to sue over alleged breach of contract," Waldspurger said. "It was made directly to me."

The agreement allows Porter to be granted an unpaid leave of absence from the district for three years beginning July 1. He cannot earn a salary or receive any benefits from the district during the leave, but Porter said it opens up "some options" for him in the long term.

"I'm only an employee of the district through June 30," he said in an interview, adding: "I'm not lurking in the background" during the unpaid leave.

During the first year of his leave, the district will make payments to Porter's retirement fund totaling $20,787. The board and Porter agreed to that following a dispute over payment for his unused sick hours.

"This is a benefit that Mark expected to receive," Waldspurger said, so the board sought a "reasonable way to structure that payment."

A formal resignation agreement only was needed because of the disputed sick-leave payment. There was no dispute that the contract guaranteed a severance payment and cash for unused vacation and sick hours.

As a result, the district is only paying Porter about $2,400 more than what his contract called for, Waldspurger said.

The resignation agreement seals a tumultuous separation between Porter and the board.

A divided board voted in December to not renew Porter's contract. That surprise decision came the same day that board members gave Porter a performance review, which he claimed was his first as superintendent despite a clause in his contract calling for annual reviews.

District residents questioned the board's decision and some organized in support of Porter.

The Bulletin asked a state agency that interprets the Minnesota Open Meeting Law to review the board's handling of the performance review. The agency recently issued a nonbinding opinion that the board violated the Open Meeting Law.

Shortly after his contract was not renewed, Porter said in an interview he did not plan to sue the district.

"That was very unfortunate," Porter said of lawsuit threat. "It certainly wasn't something I intended."

Porter said he is comfortable with the resolution.

"We've reached a very mutual (agreement) and I think both sides are very satisfied that this is the right way to move on," he said.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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