Editorial – School Board errs on unused leave

Published 7:40 pm Thursday, August 11, 2022

One of the worst justifications for a flawed decision is that “we’ve always done it that way.”

That seems to be the Isle of Wight County School Board’s best rationale for making an exception to its own policy for compensating departing employees and paying recently retired Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton a more generous calculation of unused sick and vacation leave – $91,307.75, to be exact – than other school employees receive.

During an era when classroom teachers might be more disrespected than at any time in the noble profession’s history, the cushy “transition” package for Thornton is another slap in the face. Teachers and other staff members with lengthier service to Isle of Wight County Schools receive a fraction of the payout when their service ends.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

By policy, retiring 12-month employees are to receive a “lump sum” payment equal to a maximum of 30 days of leave. Any unused leave over the 30-day limit is to be converted to sick leave and paid at a fixed rate of $30 per day, not to exceed 250 days, making the maximum sick leave payout $7,500. Had the policy been followed in Thornton’s case, he would have received just over $22,500. Instead, he got roughly four times that amount.

To be clear, our criticism is not directed at Thornton. As we’ve written before in this space, we view his tenure at the helm of ICWS to be, on balance, a success. Needed prioritization of career and technical education, as well as long-overdue school construction, will leave behind an admirable legacy long after recent political hot potatoes like Thornton’s “equity and inclusion” push are a mere historical footnote.

It should be noted that Thornton’s predecessor, Dr. Dr. Katrise Perera, also got a generous payout when she departed in 2015, despite the objection of two school board members at the time. It was wrong then and is wrong now.

If the board is insistent on continuing this bad practice, it must, at minimum, amend the policy that governs such payouts. To routinely violate it for departing superintendents is a bad look, and surely a morale killer for the rank-and-file employees of the school division.

Our preference is that the board simply abide by its policy and treat all employees – including the top dog – equally.