At the April 17 Palm Beach County School Board meeting, Frank Barbieri obviously was peeved at Art Johnson. Mr. Barbieri, a lawyer and former board chairman, explained why the board should warn the ex-superintendent of legal consequences if Dr. Johnson tries to carry out his duties as the new executive director of the Palm Beach County School Administrators Association, which represents principals and assistant principals.
Recalling the events in 2011 that led to Dr. Johnson leaving the district, Mr. Barbieri said: “Johnson was about to be fired by this board. His representative contacted me to negotiate a mutually agreed upon separation agreement in lieu of being fired.” The agreement, which Dr. Johnson signed just five minutes before the deadline and which gave him a roughly $400,000 severance package. It included a promise that after leaving Dr. Johnson would contact school personnel “exclusively” through the superintendent.
“It’s clear that Johnson can’t do what he’s been hired to do by the principals,” an exasperated Mr. Barbieri pointed out, adding that the ban on contacting school officials had no expiration date. Mr. Barbieri might be right. The district’s lawyer, however, wasn’t so sure. She said courts might rule that, in the absence of a specific end for the ban, two years would be a reasonable, enforceable limit. So the board is seeking an outside legal opinion.
If board members want a fight, Dr. Johnson no doubt will give them one. But for the board, it wouldn’t be worth the time and expense. Debra Robinson made the point best: “I have no interest — none! — in paying any lawyers over this. None. None. Zero….I’m not interested in picking a fight with the principals either. …I just want to move on.” She called Dr. Johnson “a great superintendent,” interesting praise from the board member who led the effort to oust him.
Karen Brill said, “I do not want to be in any litigation against our principals either.” The principals, interestingly, do not seem to mind poking the school board in the eye with their choice of a representative. Still, that cautious attitude is spreading. At the subsequent board meeting, Chairman Chuck Shaw said, “This is a distraction that I hate that we’re even having.”
Indeed. Mr. Barbieri’s venting accomplished enough. The board expressed its displeasure. From this point, deal with the principals based on what their representative says on their behalf, not on who that representative is.
Jac Wilder VerSteeg
for The Post Editorial Board