Retired superintendent’s $91K retirement payout exceeded School Board policy

Published 12:00 pm Saturday, August 6, 2022

Retired Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton received a $91,000 payout from Isle of Wight County Schools in June as a result of the School Board’s vote three months earlier to amend his contract.

dr. jim thornton

Jim Thornton

IWCS spokeswoman Lynn Briggs disclosed the exact dollar amount — $91,307.75 — on July 25, confirming on July 27 that the payout was indeed higher than what School Board policy allows retiring employees to receive as compensation for their unused sick leave and vacation days.

School Board Policy GCBD and its accompanying regulation, GCBD-R, state that retiring 12-month employees are to receive a “lump sum” payment equal to a maximum of 30 days of leave. The regulation further states that any unused leave over the 30-day limit is to be converted to sick leave and paid at a fixed rate of $30 per day, not to exceed 250 days, making the maximum sick leave payout $7,500.

The School Board had raised Thornton’s salary in 2021 to approximately $186,000, or roughly $509.50 per day, making the lump sum under the 30-day limit just over $15,000. Adding in the $7,500, Thornton’s payout would have amounted to a maximum of just over $22,500 under the specified policy and regulation.

The reason Thornton received roughly four times that amount, according to Briggs, is because superintendent contracts are negotiated separately from the school system’s administrative and teacher pay scales.

“This payment was calculated using his daily rate of pay, which is consistent with past practice for departing superintendents,” Briggs said.

The School Board voted to amend Thornton’s contract on March 10, granting his request to retire a year earlier than the contract had specified. In the same vote, the board agreed to provide the retiring superintendent with an unspecified amount of “transition appropriations.”

According to a March 10 memorandum on the subject of “Superintendent Separation Agreement and Appropriations,” Thornton was to receive a “gross payment” representing the “accrued but unused vacation, sick and personal leave calculated at the full per diem rate of reimbursement” included with his last check in June. But the “gross payment” line was left blank, even on the copy Thornton and School Board Chairwoman Denise Tynes signed.

According to Briggs, at the time the School Board approved the amended contract, Thornton’s days of leave had not been finalized, which is why the amount was left blank. The Smithfield Times learned the exact dollar amount via a Freedom of Information Act request, though according to Briggs, the exact number of Thornton’s unused sick and vacation days used to calculate the payout constitutes a personnel record, and is therefore exempt from the provisions of Virginia’s FOIA law.

The recorded minutes of the School Board’s May 22, 2015, meeting reflect Thornton’s predecessor, Dr. Katrise Perera, was also paid a “full per diem rate” for her unused sick, vacation and personal leave.