IDAHO FALLS — Bonneville School District trustees agreed to give outgoing superintendent Chuck Shackett a six-figure retirement payout and never discussed the agreement in an open public meeting.
Trustees approved — within a consent calendar — a separation agreement worth up to $205,000 to Shackett’s Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho account. The agreement was not made available to the public before or during the meeting.
Typically, consent agendas or consent calendars include a cluster of non-controversial items. Trustees use the process to speed up a meeting, and vote simultaneously on several items without public discussion. In this case, the consent calendar had seven items.
Trustees defended the process, saying it was based on legal advice from Bonneville’s attorney and past practices for handling personnel matters.
“It was the right thing to do,” board chairman Paul Jenkins said.
A less-than-transparent process
The agenda packet for Bonneville’s most recent meeting lists a “superintendent separation agreement” within the “consent calendar.” The agenda packet did not include Shackett’s separation agreement.
Trustees began the Aug. 8 meeting by unanimously approving the full agenda. Jenkins gave trustees a chance to move any items from the consent calendar to the regular agenda for discussion. No one motioned to do so.
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Trustee Chad Dance recused himself from voting on the consent calendar. In an email, Dance said he recused himself because the district hired his daughter as an elementary school teacher, a separate consent calendar item. (Click here for a full video of the meeting.)
The remaining trustees approved the consent calendar without discussing or disclosing details of the separation agreement.
Agreement details trickled to the public
After the meeting, Shackett told Idaho Education News his separation agreement added two months to his contract, which expires June 30. He would be paid an extra $26,000 to consult the incoming superintendent.
Idaho Education News filed a public records request for the separation agreement to corroborate Shackett’s statements. The district denied the request, telling Ed News the document contained portions of Shackett’s annual performance evaluation and was therefore exempt from public view.
Ed News insisted on a copy of the agreement because it contained a taxpayer obligation, at that time thought to be only $26,000.
A day later, Shackett shared the agreement. He said he wanted to be transparent to avoid jeopardizing the district’s Aug. 28 request to renew its $5.8 million-a-year supplemental levy.
The three-page agreement revealed new details surrounding Shackett’s resignation:
- A “resignation date” of Aug. 31, 2019.
- “Volunteer consulting” work through Dec. 31, 2019.
- A separation payment of up to $205,000.
- A clause designating the document as part of the superintendent’s personnel file and exempting it from public records requests.
Shackett acknowledged that he had “failed to mention more details” about the agreement in earlier Idaho Ed News interviews.
“I feel a little guilty,” he said, adding that he is grateful for the board’s “kindness” in providing the payout.
Trustees privately discussed Shackett’s departure for weeks
Jenkins called the separation agreement a “personnel matter” that needed to be discussed in closed executive sessions with Shackett.
Jenkins said these meetings spanned several weeks leading up to the Aug. 8 meeting, and revolved mostly around whether or not Shackett would remain in the district’s employ.
“The board would have extended his contract if Shackett had decided to,” Jenkins said.
Idaho Ed News reached out to all five board members for further clarification of the events leading up to the Aug. 8 meeting. Only Jenkins and trustee Greg Calder, a local attorney, responded with comments about the agreement.
“I can say we had executive sessions discussing Dr. Shackett’s evaluation, performance and plans for his succession,” Calder said.
Trustees defend the process
Idaho law prohibits school boards from “taking any final action or making any final decision” in executive sessions. Calder and Jenkins both said trustees made no decisions behind closed doors.
“You can’t vote in executive session,” Jenkins said.
The amount needed for Shackett to receive his full monthly retirement benefit “was not known” at the time of the closed meetings, Jenkins said, “but (it) was thought to be somewhere between $180,000 to $210,000.”
Jenkins said Shackett and the district’s legal counsel, Doug Nelson, contacted PERSI and learned the amount could not be calculated precisely until shortly before Shackett’s resignation. That’s why the agreement included a cap amount “not to exceed” $205,000, Jenkins added.
As of July 18, Shackett needed up to $203,772.29 to receive his full state retirement benefits, according to a PERSI document he showed to Idaho Ed News.
Shackett and Nelson presented the capped $205,000 payout as a “matter of research,” Jenkins said, stressing again that trustees did not vote to approve the payout in executive session.
“It seems obvious that it happened in an open meeting,” Calder said.
Calder added that trustees received a draft of the separation agreement days prior to the Aug. 8 meeting “in normal timing.” Calder said he believes the board “acted consistent with policies” and “past approaches based on the legal counsel it received.” The draft with the payout amount was not made public before Aug. 8.
Ed News reviewed Bonneville’s board minutes over the last two years. On at least 20 occasions, trustees voted on personnel issues, including a separation agreement with a teacher, as individual motions or agenda items — not as consent calendar items.
Calder said he’s willing to meet with anyone in the district to discuss his reasons for approving the agreement.
Shackett, who said personal issues influenced his decision to enter into the agreement, called the board’s decision a “blessing.”
Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report.