Outgoing Superintendent Walked Away with $181,000

District still mum on the sudden resignation

By Shane Allen
|  Tuesday, Jul 13, 2010  |  Updated 8:30 PM CDT
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Outgoing Superintendent Walked Away with $181,000

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Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. was found guilty of gender discrimination and is required to pay millions in damages.

The superintendent of the Eagle Mountain-Saginaw district left with a $181,000 check after his abrupt resignation, NBC DFW has learned.

The information was uncovered in a voluntary separation agreement marked "confidential" that was obtained using the Texas Public Information Act.

The check was part of a severance package agreed upon by Cole Pugh and the district. It was in addition to the salary Pugh had received up until the date of his resignation, according to Tom Myers, an attorney familiar with the situation.

Pugh's yearly salary was $195,000.

During Pugh's tenure with the Eagle Mountain-Saginaw Independent School District, the district received a "recognized" status by the Texas Education Agency.

The status is the state's second-highest ranking and is based mainly on how well students do on state-mandated tests.

Five of the district's 19 campuses were ranked exemplary in 2009, according to information provided on the district's website. It is the highest ranking the state can give a school.

The fast-growing district had grown to more than 16,000 students from just 12,000 when Pugh began.

The former superintendent had been a candidate for at least four other superintendent jobs outside the state, according to the district.

What is Public?

Pugh retired in June after running the district for four years. Neither the district nor Pugh said why he retired.

School board president Dick Elkins only spoke from a prepared statement that was approved by Pugh and the school board.

"The board and Dr. Pugh have entered into the agreement believing it is in their respective best interests and in the best interests of the district," Elkins read at the June board meeting.

"The board extends its best wishes to Pugh in his future endeavors."

The separation agreement obtained by NBC DFW also releases Pugh, 60, of accountability for any noncriminal misdoings in which he may have been involved while he was employed with the district.

There is no evidence of any wrongdoing by Pugh from the documents obtained by NBCDFW or otherwise. A school district spokesperson also said Tuesday that Pugh was not being investigated for anything prior to his resignation.

The legal documents drafted as part of Pugh's resignation prevents the district from commenting beyond the statement that was issued in June.

The district will not release additional documents that could show evaluations of Pugh by the school board. NBC DFW also requested those files under the Texas Public Information Act in an effort to discover what may have lead to his resignation.

The Texas Attorney General has previously said, "the public has legitimate interest in knowing reasons for dismissal, demotion, promotion, or resignation of public employees." However, the EM-S ISD is leaning on a Texas law passed in 1995 that makes a document evaluating the performance of a teacher of administrator confidential.

NBC DFW has requested a ruling from the Office of the Attorney General on whether or not the documents should be released.

"This confidentiality provision to withhold evaluations of school superintendents has no basis for law but is instead a triumph of special interest over the public interest," Keith Elkins said.

Elkins is a former reporter and the current executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas -- a nonprofit group that fights for more transparency in government.

"There is enormous and legitimate public concern regarding the conduct and competency of superintendents, and the public has a right to know," he said.

Bill Ratliff authored the 1995 law while serving as a state senator. It was passed in the senate with a 28-2 vote. Ratliff went on to be selected to replace Rick Perry as lieutenant governor when George W. Bush was elected president of the United States.

He did not run for re-election and has retired to his hometown of Mount Pleasant, where he tends to his yard and plays golf. He still does speaking engagements from time-to-time, mainly about issues regarding education.

Speaking from his home Monday, Ratliff said he wrote the law in order to allow more candid and truthful evaluations of teachers and other school employees.

"We were coming out of the career-ladder era," Ratliff said, referencing a time when an educator's salary was based on their supervisor's evaluations.

"We found out that something like 95 percent of all the teachers that were evaluated were above expectations or exceptional, which pointed out to us that as long as those were public, you aren't going to get a good evaluation," he said.

Ratliff said principals were getting criticized if they gave a negative evaluation to a teacher.

"[We thought] if we made those confidential, the appraiser would be more forthcoming as to the actual performance," Ratliff remarked.

"What you're trying to do is get improvement, not a public spectacle," he said.

While the district said Pugh was not being investigated for or accused of anything wrong, the ambiguous response to questions of why he resigned a year before his contract was to end leaves some to question why he did.

"It's disappointing that the board and superintendent cannot work out their differences," resident and former school board candidate Patrick Farr told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in June after Pugh's resignation was announced. "He did a fantastic job."

Pugh could not be reached for comment at his home Tuesday.

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