Mar 14, 2022 - News

Des Moines School Board silent on Tom Ahart's $400K severance agreement

Tom Ahart, superintendent of Des Moines Public Schools, announces his resignation on Feb. 28. Photo: Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Register/USA Today Network

Despite resigning a year early, Des Moines superintendent Tom Ahart will walk away from the school district with the full compensation he would've received through 2023, according to a severance agreement with the school board.

  • That includes a $306,193 salary, $7,200 car and cell phone allowance and his $84,019 taxpayer-provided retirement annuity, as first reported by Randy Evans, a transparency advocate and executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council.

Why it matters: School board members, who negotiated and approved the agreement, have been silent on the matter — leaving the public in the dark as to why Ahart will receive at least a $400,000 payout at a time the district says it needs to cut more than $9 million.

State of play: On March 2, the board held a two-minute special session where they approved the agreement with zero discussion.

  • The six-page agreement details how Ahart will be paid out the remainder of his contract and outlines several requirements, including a positive reference letter from the board.

The intrigue: The agreement was signed by Ahart on Feb. 22 — a week before he even made his formal resignation announcement.

  • Plus: Based on its terms, he could actually make more money not working for the district next year.

Under the agreement's terms:

  • Ahart could make more money not working for the district next year.
  • All inquiries about Ahart's employment and resignation must be referred to a "mutually agreeable" statement from both parties.
  • Both parties are prohibited from suing each other.

Plus: Ahart is required to assist DMPS if legal action arises related to events that occurred during his tenure, which could occur after he defied the state's requirement for in-person classes.

  • Under this scenario, his compensation would be $147 an hour.

What they're saying: School board president Dwana Bradley declined to speak to Axios about the agreement due to legal reasons, and instead referred to a previous statement.

Meanwhile, Evans told Axios the board's brief meeting signals that the details of the agreement were already decided on behind closed doors.

  • "The public had no opportunity for input," he said.

The bottom line: By deciding on the agreement away from the public eye, Des Moines taxpayers will never learn if Ahart’s pay is justified or not, Evans said.

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