Highland Park school board awards $300,000 severance to departing superintendent

Highland Park school board awards $300,000 severance to departing superintendent

The excessive severance package comes as a bill curbing golden parachutes sits in the Illinois House of Representatives.

Six-figure compensation isn’t hard to come by for Township High School District 113 employees. Located in affluent Highland Park, more than 250 of the district’s 340 employees earn over $100,000 when factoring in benefits, with 230 earning above $100,000 before benefits are counted.

But leaving a job at the district – not just taking one – can come with lofty pay as well.

The most recent beneficiary of Illinois’ streak of excessive severance payouts, also known as “golden parachutes,” is outgoing District 113 superintendent Christopher Dignam, who will collect a $300,000 severance package as he departs from his post June 30.

School board members voted 5-1 to award Dignam the $300,000 severance pay during a closed-door meeting May 22, according to Highland Park News. One school board member who was absent for the vote insisted he’d have voted against the payout.

School board officials have declined to elaborate on the reasons for Dignam’s resignation, and have not disclosed the contents of the separation agreement, according to Highland Park News.

The board’s separation with Dignam comes less than two weeks after a May 14 school board meeting, during which the outgoing superintendent was charged with fostering a work environment where teachers risk retribution for voicing concerns.

Dignam was initially hired as a teacher at Deerfield High School in 2015 and was promoted to district superintendent the following year, after which he earned a $205,000 salary. According to the Highland Park Patch, the district school board hiked Dignam’s pay to $250,000 seven months into his first year, after the superintendent requested a midyear review. Before attaining his $300,000 severance agreement, Dignam had served as superintendent for less than two years.

Too frequently, governing bodies award golden parachutes to public officials who resign in disgrace or in the wake of controversy – all courtesy of the taxpayer. In many cases, taxpayers are kept in the dark altogether about the details behind the retirements they’re forced to subsidize.

Fortunately, many state lawmakers have demonstrated awareness of this problem. One example is Senate Bill 3604, which passed the Illinois Senate unanimously May 2. The bill would bar severance pay for employees terminated due to misconduct and cap severance pay at the equivalent of 20 weeks of compensation.

The bill currently sits in the House, where it has unanimously passed committee. With strong bipartisan momentum behind curtailing golden severance excess, lawmakers would do taxpayers a favor by bringing SB 3604 to a floor vote before the General Assembly leaves Springfield for the summer.

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