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Hammond Board spared future litigation in superintendent separation agreement

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HAMMOND - An illegal action by the Hammond Central School Board of Education led to the board’s approval of an agreement allowing Superintendent Douglas H. McQueer to retire rather than be fired.

Mr. McQueer will receive lifetime health, dental and optical insurance as part of his early retirement agreement approved by the school board Wednesday, so long as he does not seek legal action against the district. The board of education unanimously voted to accept the resignation of Mr. McQueer at Wednesday’s meeting after weeks of negotiating the terms of his contract.

School board President Timothy W. Pitcher said Thursday that the board’s initial decision last month to fire Mr. McQueer was reached improperly. Board members voted in executive session to terminate him, and learned afterward that the vote was illegal.

Uncertainty over whether to renew Mr. McQueer’s contract, which was up for negotiation this year, began earlier in the summer, Mr. Pitcher said.

Mr. Pitcher previously said the board had voted to fire Mr. McQueer based on ongoing poor job performance and evaluation scores, in addition to differing opinions about the district’s direction for the future.

By the time Mr. McQueer’s contract was up at the end of June, the board had not yet reached consensus about whether to renew his contract.

“We had not finished up any of our deliberations,” Mr. Pitcher said.

On July 8 Mr. Pitcher and board member Marjorie McCullough met with St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES Superintendent Thomas R. Burns to discuss the procedure for terminating Mr. McQueer.

“I advised them on the process, the possible ramifications and told them to retain counsel,” Mr. Burns said. “I’m an advisor. That’s not to say that I’m helping them form opinions or make decisions.”

Mr. Pitcher said the board did not have an opportunity to consult with an attorney before its July 9 reorganizational meeting, where members reappointed Mr. McQueer to continue his functions with the board of education but did not vote to extend his contract as superintendent.

In executive session following the reorganizational meeting, Mr. Pitcher said the board voted to not renew Mr. McQueer’s contract. The next day, the board informed Mr. McQueer that he was being terminated.

But because the vote to fire him did not happen in public and there were no minutes taken to record it, the decision was unlawful.

“It didn’t look right; it probably wasn’t laid out well,” Mr. Pitcher said of the process. “We didn’t have our lawyer there.”

The action was null and void because the board did not follow the correct procedures. As a result, Mr. McQueer’s contract was still in effect until Wednesday’s meeting, when board members accepted his early retirement.

The separation agreement also states that the board of education will not seek legal action against Mr. McQueer, and both the board and Mr. McQueer are barred form making “disparaging comments about the other party or this agreement.”

Mr. McQueer will continue serving until Oct. 1. Mr. Pitcher said he hope the board will find a permanent replacement by February. An interim superintendent will be appointed until a permanent replacement is found.

“We want to see someone that’s honest, with a lot of integrity, who’s good with the kids and wants to listen to people. I think that’s what everyone wants in a superintendent,” Mr. Pitcher said. “You’ve got to be a good communicator.”

Mr. McQueer will also have $7,500 from earned and unused sick days applied to his 10 percent share of health insurance costs as part of his separation agreement. The agreement states that he is entitled to retiree benefits regardless of whether he is employed.

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