Agreement Reached With Outgoing Chief

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A very public contract dispute here last week between Mayor Michael R. White and the outgoing local schools chief, James W. Penning, marred what had been a smooth transition to a new governing structure for 76,500-student district.

At issue was an agreement reached in January between Mr. Penning, state Superintendent John M. Goff, and Cleveland city officials, which may or may not have included Mayor White himself, that guaranteed Mr. Penning his annual salary--$120,000--for each of the next three years. He was to receive that salary regardless of the position he held after the mayor took control of the district on Sept. 9.

Mr. Penning's contract as the state-appointed chief had a $600,000 buyout clause to protect him from being forced out of the system after only a few months on the job.

But forced out he was, when Mayor White rejected the buyout deal, describing it as a "golden parachute." After a week of negotiations between lawyers for Mr. Penning, City Hall, and the state education department, the former chief walked away with only a year's pay, accrued vacation and sick leave, and a temporary job as Cleveland coordinator for the Ohio education department.

Mr. Penning, who has worked as a teacher and administrator in the district for 29 years, cleaned out his office at district headquarters downtown when the new board met for the first time Sept. 9.

That same afternoon, Mr. White announced that Louis J. Erste, the district's former chief of staff, would serve as acting superintendent until a permanent chief executive officer is named.

William Wendling, a spokesman for the team heading up the school system's transition, said he could not comment on Mr. Penning's contract.


Vol. 18, Issue 2, Page 12

Published in Print: September 16, 1998, as Agreement Reached With Outgoing Chief
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