Tara Kristoff is leaving Lyons School District 103 with a check for nearly $34,000 as part of her agreement to resign immediately as the principal of Lincoln School in Brookfield.
Kristoff, who was just hired last year and has been on paid leave since Feb 14, was accused of insubordination and resigned as principal at Lincoln on March 11. That evening the Lyons School District 103 Board of Education approved her resignation agreement by a 4 to 3 vote.
As part of the resignation agreement, which the Landmark obtained by filing an open records request, Kristoff, whose annual salary was $91,000, is receiving a severance payment of $33,778.
That amount is equal to her salary through April 30 and the cost of her health insurance through June 30, said Co-interim Superintendent Patrick Patt.
As part of the resignation agreement, Kristoff agreed not to sue the district and waived all claims against the school district. Meanwhile, District 103 agrees not to press any claims against Kristoff.
The agreement states that a letter sent to Kristoff on Feb. 14, which formally accused her of insubordination and making derogatory statements about the co-interim superintendents, will remain in her personnel final, However, the letter will remain confidential and won’t be released to any third parties except as required by law.
However, that letter had already been obtained and published by the Desplaines Valley News newspaper.
The agreement also states that that District 103 will not challenge any claim Kristoff makes for unemployment benefits and that the district will not challenge any statements by Kristoff that that she resigned in lieu of termination and that she did not engage in misconduct that would disqualify her from receiving any unemployment benefits.
The agreement also states that if the district receives any employment reference request for Kristoff, the district will only provide a reference letter merely stating Kristoff served as the principal of Lincoln School from Aug. 6, 2018 through March 11, 2019 and that her last annual salary was $91,000.
The district is also prohibited from saying anything else about Kristoff’s time in the district.
In the agreement, both Kristoff and the district agreed not to make derogatory or disparaging comments about each other.
Kristoff did not return a telephone call from the Landmark asking if she wanted to comment about her resignation. In her brief three sentence letter of resignation, obtained by the Landmark as part of its open records request, Kristoff stated that she was resigning “for personal reasons.”
Kristoff, who came to the district in 2018 and had never been a principal before, apparently had a difficult relationship with teachers at Lincoln School. She was placed on paid administrative leave the day after she held a staff meeting with teachers and Patt. At that meeting, she reportedly was supposed to address a list of concerns raised by teachers but did not address all of them.
“It’s my understanding that there were some issues that the teachers went and complained about to the superintendent,” said longtime school board member Joanne Schaeffer who, along with Michael Bennett and Jorge Torres, voted against approving the resignation agreement.
“The superintendent had a list and told her to take the list and at their next meeting address it. Evidently she only addressed three, and I think he said there were 13 or 14 [issues] and that was that.”
Schaeffer, whose great-granddaughter attends Lincoln School, said she believed the whole situation could have been handled differently and that Kristoff should have been allowed to finish the year.
“I did not like the way the process was done,” Schaeffer said. “Tara was a one-year principal. If we were not happy with the way it was or the teachers weren’t happy, the year is over in 10 weeks and we have spring break in there. Just don’t give her another contract. It’s happened before. That’s my opinion.”
Schaeffer said she liked Kristoff as a person and wasn’t sure how good a principal she was.
“I’m not in the building every day,” Schaeffer said. “From what I saw, and from what my great-granddaughter tells me and some other folks, some people liked her and some people didn’t like her. But guess what, that’s normal. It’s like that with bosses.”
Schaeffer agreed that it was unusual that she voted with Torres and Bennett and against her usual allies Sharon Anderson, Shannon Johnson, Tom Weiner and school board President Marge Hubacek.
“I did not vote as a bloc with anyone,” Schaeffer said. “Joanne voted all by herself.”
Hubacek said she voted to approve the resignation agreement because it was the best way to end a bad situation.
“When you’re insubordinate and give a problem to the superintendent like this, sometimes you just have to cut your losses and agree to part company,” Hubacek said. “I had no hesitation about it. No one ever likes to make decisions like that, but I think it had to be done, and we did it.”
Hubacek said the resignation was the best way to move forward.
“I voted to accept it, because I think it’s a good move for the staff and students at Lincoln School,” Hubacek said. “It wasn’t a good fit, so we came to an agreement to end her employment here. Now we’ll move forward.”