As interim Urbana superintendent, Williams' pay set at $1,200 per day

As interim Urbana superintendent, Williams' pay set at $1,200 per day

URBANA — While Urbana looks for a new school superintendent to replace the ousted Don Owen, interim fill-in Preston Williams will be compensated up to $144,000 for a maximum 120 days of work in the job he once held, according to district documents.

Meanwhile, the school board — which voted Tuesday to place Owen and Assistant Superintendent Kathy Barbour on paid leave effective immediately — said its search for permanent replacements will begin "shortly."

Williams, who spent 26 years in the district, retired as superintendent in 2013. Per state policy, interim superintendents can work a maximum of 120 days. Williams' employment agreement, signed Tuesday, calls for "a per diem rate of $1,200 per day" for "regular services for the school district."

Gayle Jefferies and Jean Korder will also return to administrative roles on an interim basis. Jefferies' employment agreement calls for her to be compensated up to $84,000 for no more than 120 days' work.

Korder is expected to sign her agreement Monday.

In addition to Owen and Barbour, former Urbana Assistant Superintendent Samuel Byndom has been on leave since late October. He faces felony charges of eavesdropping for allegedly attempting to record an Oct. 28 school board meeting, which was held in closed session.

At that meeting, the board was to have discussed the employment of both Byndom and Owen.

The board has been tight-lipped since announcing the administrative changes — first via a press release last week. In a statement Friday, the board said it wished "to express our deep appreciation to Dr. Owen and Ms. Barbour for their decades of service to the Urbana school district."

"We did what we felt was best for our district," the district went on to say in the statement. "We cannot, however, comment publicly about personnel matters out of respect for the privacy and rights of the individuals involved."

In a separate statement emailed to News-Gazette Media, the board shared more detail about the process that led to Tuesday's vote.

Members said they informed Owen during executive session following a Nov. 20 board meeting that his contract would not be renewed and that they were interested in bringing in an interim superintendent to manage the district in the short term.

"The board then expressed a willingness to enter into a separation agreement with Don," the statement said. "However, this needed to be accomplished before Dec. 1, in order to publish the agenda for the Dec. 4 meeting.

"The board also explained, if an agreement could not be reached before then, the board would place Dr. Owen on a paid leave at its Dec. 4 meeting so it could bring in Dr. Williams."

Two members of the board were assigned to work with Owen on a separation agreement, which never happened, according to the board. Its next correspondence about the issue came on Nov. 26, from an attorney representing Owen.

"Once legal counsel had been acquired, all discussion progressed through the attorneys," the board said in its statement to News-Gazette Media. "Obviously, no agreement was reached, and the agenda was published with the item to place Dr. Owen on leave."

Because no clear reason was given for either Owen or Barbour's leave, public comment Tuesday night was rife with speculation, with some speakers suggesting the personnel moves had been prompted by the board being positioned against various efforts in the district to create racial equity, including the move to a disciplinary system based heavily on restorative justice.

The board addressed those allegations in Friday's statement, saying it remained committed to racial equity and hoped to find a permanent superintendent whose work would reflect the same goals.

"This past spring, the BOE approved significant district financial resources to support this essential work and on Nov. 20 approved additional resources for the middle and high schools in support of its equity mission," the statement said. "This district will not be moving away from its goals surrounding equity. It will be a priority for the Board of Education to find a permanent superintendent committed to these very same goals."

The statement did not, however, address the reason for the removal of Owen's removal or make mention of board President John Dimit publicly decrying the speed of the transition to a new discipline system at a September board meeting.

In a statement that night, Dimit said the board had advised administrators to slow down and listen to concerns from Urbana staff, students and community members before completing the transition to a dean-less middle and high school. Some community members argued that the deans had not only been crucial in their role as facilitators of school order, but had served in numerous capacities and enjoyed trusting relationships with many students.

Although Owen and Barbour were placed on paid leave effective Tuesday, both retain tenure rights within the district, meaning they can still serve in certified roles in "some capacity," according to the board.

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