Jun 3, 2022 - News

Des Moines superintendent gets $200K vacation payout

A photo of Tom Ahart.

Tom Ahart, superintendent of Des Moines Public Schools, announcing his resignation in February of this year. Photo: Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Register via Imagn Content Services

Des Moines Public Schools superintendent Tom Ahart's accrued vacation will cost the district nearly $197,000, according to information obtained by Axios through a public records request.

State of play: The payout for 1,341 hours is on top of the $307,000 in salary Ahart will receive for the last year of his contract.

  • Other benefits like a car and cell phone allowance and medical insurance will cost the district at least another $121,000, the records show.
  • The payout comes as the district was forced to make $9.4 million in cuts for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Catch up fast: Ahart — who was appointed as DMPS superintendent in 2013 — became the center of controversy during the pandemic over the district's decision not to hold in-person classes.

  • The school board voted 4-3 in May 2021 not to renew his contract that ended June 2023.
  • Then, in August 2021, a letter of public reprimand was placed in Ahart's permanent licensure file and he was required to complete ethics training by the state Board of Educational Examiners to resolve the pandemic complaints against him.

Fast forward: The school board in March agreed to pay Ahart through his contract, yet allow him to leave a year early, effective June 30.

  • Now he's using some of his vacation and is off the job at least a month earlier than was planned under the agreement.
  • As a result, associate superintendent Matt Smith started as the interim superintendent on Wednesday following the board's approval in a special meeting Tuesday.

Between the lines: Ahart's contract gave him 25 days of vacation a year. It also exempted him from a school rule that limits most district administrators to a maximum of 50 days of accrued vacation.

  • He was instead allowed to carry over up to 1,500 hours, or the equivalent of about 10 months of pay.

The big picture: Ahart's vacation payout is a large sum, but not unprecedented.

  • A district in Massachusetts will this year pay its embattled superintendent $280,000 for vacation and sick days.
  • In California, a superintendent cashed out more than $300,000 worth of vacation sick time between 2020 and 2021.

Of note: Ahart will not be paid for 1,323 hours of unused sick leave, district CFO Shashank Aurora told Axios.

What they're saying: Nothing. Ahart's separation agreement with the board says a mutually agreeable statement about his resignation, "shall be the sole statement from the parties.”

  • That's a failure of elected officials to hold themselves accountable to the public, Randy Evans, a transparency advocate and executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, told Axios.
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