The principal of L.J. Hauser Junior High School will remain on the Riverside Elementary School District 96 payroll until St. Patrick’s Day. That is the day the resignation of Leslie Berman, the principal at Hauser since 2006, becomes effective.
Berman and the District 96 Board of Education agreed on a resignation and general release of claims agreement, in which the school board agreed to pay Berman until March 17 in return for Berman’s agreement not to sue the district or any of its employees.
The Landmark obtained the agreement by filing a Freedom of Information Act request. Berman abruptly cleaned out her office at Hauser and walked away from her job on Jan. 8.
The school board agreed to pay Berman for about two months after she stopped showing up to work. As part of the agreement, Berman must use her remaining 11 vacation prior to March 17.
Berman’s lawyer Steven Glink had threatened to file an age discrimination suit against Superintendent Bhavna Sharma-Lewis and District 96, but the school board held firm and didn’t blink during negotiations.
Berman signed the agreement on Feb. 8, one month to the day after she cleaned out her office. The school board unanimously approved the resignation agreement at a special meeting on Feb. 11.
Berman hurt her negotiating position by walking away from her job; something she did without consulting her lawyer. School board members were angry that Berman simply stopped coming to work.
“She abandoned her job,” said District 96 school board President Mary Rose Mangia. “What more can you say? When she kind of abandoned her job a lot minds got closed. It clarified the situation.”
The board was prepared to contest any claim for unemployment benefits that Berman might file, arguing that she walked away from her job and breached her contract.
Under the agreement the district will pay Berman’s health insurance premiums through the end of March.
Berman will retire with the 106 sick days she accumulated since coming to Hauser. Those sick days will be added to her time of service for pension purposes and will boost her Illinois Teacher Retirement System pension.
The agreement states the district will give Berman a neutral letter of reference if any prospective employers contact the district about her.
Berman did not reply to a message left on her cell phone asking for comment.
Her lawyer said that the resignation was a reasonable compromise, but Berman did most of the giving.
“All I can really say is I’m just glad that everyone realized that it was better for everyone just to get it resolved,” Glink said. “I’m just glad it worked out without going to a lawsuit, because that doesn’t really do good for anybody.”
Glink also represented Blythe Park Principal Bob Chleboun, former Director of Technology Vern Bettis, and former Director of Special Education Mary Polk, who have all resigned since Sharma-Lewis took over last July.
Only Chleboun is finishing the school year with District 96. His resignation becomes effective July 1. At the same meeting the board approved the agreement with Berman, it also unanimously approved a settlement agreement with Chleboun, who had submitted his letter of resignation in January.
In the agreement, which the Landmark also obtained by filing a Freedom of Information Act request, Chleboun gave up any right to sue the district or any of its employees for any reason.
In exchange the school board agreed to expunge “Chleboun’s 2013-2014 observation by Dr. Bhavna Sharma-Lewis from Chleboun’s personnel file.”
“I’m sure it was loaded with things we didn’t agree with, and that’s why we asked for it to be removed,” Glink said.
Apparently Sharma-Lewis’s report on Chleboun was not flattering.
Chleboun did not respond to a call from the Landmark asking for comment about the agreement.