Charlton contract called for no pay if she left voluntarily

Charlton contract called for no pay if she left voluntarily

CUMBERLAND – A contract with former Cumberland High School Principal Donna Charlton, obtained by The Valley Breeze this week, shows that Charlton was not entitled to be paid beyond when she left the position – if she was leaving of her own free will.

Under a section titled “resignation,” a voluntary departure by Charlton meant all obligations of the district would be erased “other than any obligations with respect to earned but unpaid salary and benefits through the date of termination or expiration.”

The contract doesn’t mention paying Charlton beyond the date of her departure if she left voluntarily.

School officials have said Charlton resigned from the district to pursue her doctorate. They have declined to release a separation agreement with the former principal, saying it is not a public record.

The contract provided this week states that if Charlton was fired for cause, she would receive only the money earned to that point. If her employment was terminated without cause, she would be entitled “to any and all compensation due and owing for the remaining term of the agreement.”

If the sides reached a mutual agreement that Charlton’s employment should be ended, she would only be entitled to receive pay earned to that point, according to the contract.

The pact with Charlton called for her to receive $114,000 in salary, 20.5 days of vacation, eight paid sick days, and three paid personal days. An “advanced lane” clause entitled her to be paid a $5,000 stipend per year once she received her doctorate, which was supposed to be in hand by December 2017.

Charlton ended up being paid her entire salary plus more than $7,000 more for 16.5 unused vacation days.

School Committee members last week accepted the resignation of Charlton, as well as a separation agreement reached with the departed administrator.

Reading from a prepared statement on behalf of the school board, attorney Stephen Adams said officials determined that “the best way forward” both for CHS and Charlton was to accept her resignation.

The law limits what information officials can release when it comes to personnel matters, said Adams. Though there have been many questions swirling around Charlton’s departure, officials are limited in what they can say in reply, he said.

Adams said school officials previously provided all information on pay to Charlton, totaling $121,000, and he said the former principal’s contract would also be provided in response to a followup records request from The Breeze for information.

“The separation agreement itself is not a public record under the Access to Public Records Act,” he said.

The School Committee voted 6-1 to accept the resignation and approve the separation agreement. Chairman Raymond Salvatore, who previously confirmed suggestions that Charlton seemed overwhelmed by the top administrator job, was the only no vote.

At the Feb. 7 School Committee meeting, Cumberland resident Joe Vela brought up a Breeze report on Charlton being paid a severance and vacation pay and questioned the School Committee on why she was paid so much. When he worked in corporate America, he said, the norm when someone was laid off was one’s week’s salary for every year they worked. How, he asked, did Charlton make off with $52,000 in severance pay when she was the one who decided to leave to pursue her doctorate, as school officials have claimed, only six months into a one-year contract?

Committee members declined to answer Vela, saying the board’s public comment period was not the proper forum for doing so.

Last Thursday’s meeting provided the first opportunity for school board members to publicly comment on the Charlton situation since she left in December, halfway through her one-year contract with the district.

The Valley Breeze reported two weeks ago that Charlton was paid $121,234, including $52,615 in severance money, $61,384 in principal wages, and another $7,234 for 16.5 vacation days.

Charlton has not returned calls for comment.

The payout caused widespread outrage in town, with many questioning how someone who supposedly left of her own volition would get paid for the whole year and more.

School Committee Vice President Bill Dennen said during last Thursday’s meeting that members want to say more about the circumstances surrounding Charlton’s departure, but are prohibited by law from doing so. Officials are simply not allowed to discuss personnel issues, he said.

Member Mark Fiorillo countered some of the many comments he’s seen about the high school, saying it’s not in a “death spiral,” as some have suggested, calling that comment a “slap in the face” to those who are doing good work at the school every day. Assistant Supt. Tony DiManna is doing a great job leading the school on an interim basis, he said.

“The high school is running just fine,” said Fiorillo. “Everything is really being dealt with.”

Member Karen Freedman noted that she’s a parent of two students at CHS and also a taxpayer in the town. Though she didn’t comment on specifics about Charlton’s departure, she said school officials know their responsibility “to make the best decision we can for the school” with the information they have.

The goal now, said Freedman, is to find the best next principal for CHS to keep the positive momentum there going.

Dennen and school board members also attended last Wednesday’s Town Council meeting, where they also stated that they couldn’t talk about the Charlton agreement. They sought to reassure town leaders that everyone wants the best candidate possible to take over as leader of CHS. They said Mitchell is the one who does the hiring, and they offer “advice and consent” on the hires.


The Town Council has something called Executive Session that provides for this situation. The school department can answer questions there privately. So what happens now. They are not held accountable? Vote them out and get rid of them.

It is very clear that the school committee cannot be trusted if they cannot tell the truth about the payoff. This is our hard earned tax dollars and we deserve to know how they reached this decision. Reading the contract language that she was "fired without cause" is the only way she could have received this amount of money. I guess we can be lucky that they did not give her the $5000 bonus for her unearned doctorate.
Uncontrolled spending and lies should be a wake up call when the school committee says the residents are not doing enough to support the school system.

Mr. Salvatore says there is no proof they were hiding funds. So let's find out the real story. Let's get the state police to investigate the possibility of fraud. Cumberland residents are entitled to answers that the school dept/committee already know but are hiding.

The public comment period isn't the proper forum to answer Mr. Vela's questions? What is? Apparently they just want us to shut up and pay the taxes.

The school committee stated that "Public Comment" was not the correct forum to address Joe Vela's comments? Let's be clear here: Under the R.I. Open Meetings law there is absolutely nothing that prevents a dialogue between a member of the public and one or more committee member...even if the issue discussed by the member of the public is not on the agenda for that evening. And every single member of the committee could comment if they wish. The one restriction is that the committee could not take a vote on that issue because it is not on the agenda.

That being said, if Public Comment is not correct setting to address this issue, then when is? Did any member provide a scenario during which it would be discussed? Or are they hiding behind Public Comment?

I previously served on the committee and I can assure you that I also would have vote "no" to approve the agreeement. Something does not smell right and does not jive with what has been said publicly as to her original reasons for leaving. If it was because she was overwhelmed or she wanted to work on her doctorate then there is zero reason for a payout! I woukd have demanded that language be added that required her to waive her confidentiality. However, i would have still voted against the agreement. For all we know, in today's environment, she was claiming sexual harrassment during her very short tenure and this is hush money to protect one or more people.

Brian Kelly