By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org
Nine months ago, a state audit concluded that Miami Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho’s generous severance package violated state law. Despite the finding, Carvalho has refused to amend his employment agreement to fix one of the problems identified in the audit, claiming he doesn’t have to do so.
The Florida Auditor General’s report determined that “contrary to law” Carvalho’s contract with the school board does not “prohibit severance pay should the superintendent be terminated for misconduct.”
Carvalho would not be interviewed. Instead, he responded to questions via school district spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez-Diego, who said changing Carvalho’s contract to prohibit severance pay should he be fired simply isn’t necessary.
“Pursuant to the Superintendent’s contract, he is bound by all current Florida laws,” Gonzalez-Diego said.
The law, enacted four years ago, says government employees who enter into employment agreements cannot receive more than 20 weeks of compensation as severance pay and that all employment contracts contain a provision that prohibits severance pay if an individual is fired for misconduct.
Douglas R. Conner, an audit manager for Florida Auditor General Sherrill F. Norman, handles inquiries about the Miami-Dade Public Schools audit. He declined comment, saying “Our follow-up procedures on the findings noted in our report will occur during our next audit of the district” early next year.
The Miami-Dade School Board approved a seven-year extension of Carvalho’s contract on March 20, 2013. The contract’s terms remained the same as when it was first signed in 2008, including a severance package that would pay Carlvaho a lump sum for one year of his $318,000 salary should he be terminated without cause, according to the January report.
The auditor, however, concluded the severance deal “did not appear to be consistent” with the 2011 state law prohibiting school district executives from getting more than 20 weeks of compensation if they are fired without cause.
“Also, contrary to law, the agreement did not prohibit severance pay should the Superintendent be terminated for misconduct,” the report states.
CARVALHO FIXED ONE PROBLEM
Auditors brought the illegality to the school district’s attention last October and Carvalho quickly responded with a memo to both the auditor general and school board members stating he was modifying his employment agreement.
“I further agree…that any severance payment that I may receive may not exceed an amount greater than 20 weeks of compensation,” Carvalho wrote.
However, neither Carvalho nor the school board fixed the issue of prohibiting severance pay should he be fired for misconduct.
Gonzalez-Diego told FloridaBulldog.org that Carvalho’s contract specifies that severance will only be provided for termination without cause. “If he gets fired for cause, he doesn’t get anything,” Gonalez-Diego said. “He doesn’t get paid.”
Furthermore, Carvalho was not obligated to modify his contract but did so anyway, Gonzalez-Diego added.
“The Superintendent’s contract was negotiated specifically to be prospectively and automatically adjusted in accordance with any and all changes to Florida State statutes without any requirement for the contract itself to be amended,” she said.
“In an abundance of caution, the superintendent voluntarily executed a memorandum confirming his concurrence with the limitations placed on any severance as specified in any Florida statute.”
Critics cite the auditor’s findings as evidence that Carvalho gets preferential treatment even as he demands that rank-and-file educators accept onerous labor contracts.
“He is constantly calling us excessive for demanding pay we were promised,” said Shawn Beightol, a science teacher at John A. Ferguson Senior High School. “Yet he negotiated a salary agreement that would pay him an excessive amount of money for work he won’t do and that the auditor general deemed was illegal.”
Trevor Colestock, a library media specialist at Crestview Elementary, echoed Beightol. “Alberto Carvalho always claims financial urgency every time he bargains with teachers,” Colestock said. “But here the auditor general cited him for attempting to obtain what a reasonable person may assume is a golden parachute. Go figure.”
Beightol was among dozens of school district employees who attended the school board’s regular meeting earlier this month to protest the new labor contract negotiated by United Teachers of Dade and the school district. The teachers, many of who don’t have tenure, accuse the school district of failing to give them higher raises based on their work performance.
School Board member Raquel Regalado, who is running to unseat Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez in 2016, called the criticisms unwarranted. She noted Carvalho voluntarily adjusted his severance package in response to the audit.
“Alberto has done a fantastic job,” Regalado said. “It was the superintendent who amended his contract to be in accordance with state law.”