GRAND RAPIDS, MI – The Kent Intermediate School District negotiated a settlement with an assistant superintendent accused of workplace intimidation or bullying that pays him his salary and an annuity through May 15, 2021.
William Smith, who has served as assistant superintendent for instructional services since 2011, had been on paid leave since June 19, while employee complaints were investigated by Lusk Albertson law firm.
According to the agreement details released Friday, Oct. 4, Smith will be paid his current annual salary of $164,744 and $17,113 (10 percent of his salary) in the Kent ISD’s Tax Sheltered Annuity Plan that he chose. He will be provided his applicable benefits subject to any benefit plan terms, documents and policies.
In exchange, Smith agrees not to sue the educational agency that supports local county schools. He will also continue a restricted employment relationship with Kent ISD until his 2021 resignation, performing any work or projects assigned offsite and without any employee interaction.
The school board approved the settlement Monday but the details were withheld until the revocation period expired.
Some things Smith was said to engage in that created a hostile environment that were cited as examples of workplace intimidation or bullying included: Yelling or ranting, ridiculing or insulting co-workers, spreading rumors to hurt a colleague’s reputation, and giving colleagues the “cold shoulder.”
“We entered into this settlement and release agreement to avoid significant legal cost but also there is a strain that protracted court proceedings can have on individuals and an organization,” Kent ISD Superintendent Ron Caniff told MLive Friday.
“We wanted to focus our time, energy and money on kids as oppose to having this cloud hang over us for an extended period of time. This settlement also ensures our employees and other witnesses won’t have to undergo the unpleasant experience of a civil action.”
Smith has denied the allegations through his attorney, Bradley Glazier, who released a statement Tuesday that said:
“Bill Smith is pleased to have reached an agreement with the Kent ISD that allows all sides to avoid the risks and costs associated with litigation. He thanks those who have stood by him throughout his career, and looks forward to collaborating with the school district for the betterment of the students, teachers and staff.”
Caniff, who did recommend Smith be fired, said hopefully, the organization can now move forward, heal and to learn from this experience.
He said he is grateful to the current and former employees who came forward to register complaints about Smith’s treatment.
He said he apologized during a recent staff meeting to their employees because it is clear from the investigation report that a number of employees who believe that they were mistreated and their concerns didn’t get the attention deserved.
“I have told our employees if they believed they’ve been wronged to bring those concerns forward so that we can deal with them,’’ said Caniff, who said they can have confidence their concerns will be given the upmost attention and if necessary investigation.
“I know it takes courage and trust to bring these types of complaints to light.”
There were not formal complaints about Smith’s alleged behavior until this spring when initially two employees came forward and later more.
“There were some who didn’t bring complaints forward out of concerns it would come back on them in a negative way,” Caniff said.
Specific allegations made against Smith included:
Yelling at or intimidating an ISD coordinator numerous times last school year to the point of tears, including a rant involving the usage of district vehicles in which the coordinator was called “uncoachable.’’
Engaging in a rant, described as red-face yelling, at a former director after Smith’s wife was not hired for a position at the agency in which the director oversaw the process.
Yelling at and intimidating a district director in January for investigating and raising concerns regarding the agency’s relationship with Kickstand LLC, a K-12 learning platform. Caniff was also critical of his oversight of the budget regarding the software curriculum Kent ISD sold to Kickstand.
Under the work provision, Smith is not permitted to be on the Kent ISD campus, located at 2950 Knapp St. NE, or to interact with staff. He would be interacting directly with Caniff, unless otherwise authorized.
“As oppose to just cutting a check and going our separate ways, there will be some value to our organization through this agreement,” Caniff said. “It won’t be frivolous work but meaningful projects.”
Smith, who had been an education consultant and superintendent of Kent City Community Schools prior to coming to Kent ISD, received highly effective performance evaluations from Caniff and his predecessor.
Nelson Miller, associate dean and professor at Cooley Law School, said settlement agreements are common in public organizations and corporation. He said to the public it appears the wrongdoer is being rewarded but they do pay a price.
“These agreements can be potentially career-ending, whatever document says, it is a force out or firing that affects the person’s future career and compensation,’’ he said, about get one or two years of salary, but possibly giving 10 to 20 more years in their field.
Miller also said if the case goes to court juries are unpredictable, so there is always an element of risk. He said anonymous employees, in a civil case, would have to come forward and testify.
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Published at Fri, 04 Oct 2019 14:49:09 +0000