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Montco school chief returns after 'excessive' retirement deal

UPPER PERKIOMEN A former superintendent of the Upper Perkiomen schools whose retirement package was criticized as "excessive" by a state official has been called back to duty by the Montgomery County district.

UPPER PERKIOMEN A former superintendent of the Upper Perkiomen schools whose retirement package was criticized as "excessive" by a state official has been called back to duty by the Montgomery County district.

The school board's president, William Scott, said the board had asked Timothy F. Kirby to be interim superintendent starting July 1, to take over for Beth Yonson, who resigned in December for unspecified medical reasons two years into her five-year contract. She officially retires June 30.

Kirby worked for the 3,200-student district from June 2004 until he retired in February 2012 with $229,000 in unused sick and vacation days and health-care coverage.

In a routine review of school district spending, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said in October that his office believed the package was excessive based on the district's size, structure, and other factors.

Scott said Friday that DePasquale's report contained "about eight errors," although he said he could not recall them. He said that the district corrected the errors and that the auditor general's office "refiled the report with more errors in it."

DePasquale said the "overall thrust" of the report was accurate. "We stand behind that," he said.

After the district raised concerns, some corrections were made to typographic errors found in the document, he added. He said he had no comment on Kirby's return to the district.

Scott said that the board had offered Kirby the job and that he had accepted, but that the parties still were negotiating a contract. The school board is to vote on the agreement at its next meeting, Thursday, when all eight board members are expected to approve the hire, he said.

Board members thought Kirby was the best person to help search for a permanent replacement, Scott said, adding that Kirby would not be a candidate.

Scott said the board hoped to have a new superintendent in place by Dec. 31.

Kirby could not be reached for comment.

According to the auditor general's report, Upper Perkiomen let Kirby carry over 100 sick days that he accrued in his previous job as superintendent of the Council Rock School District in Bucks County.

In addition, his initial contract capped his raise at 6 percent, but the board amended the contract in 2006 to give him a 15 percent pay increase. That raise was meant to be in lieu of reimbursements for travel expenses and unused vacation, but another contract amendment gave him five more vacation days annually and a per diem payment for up to 50 vacation days, the audit found.

His 2009 contract outlining retirement benefits called for Kirby to be paid for up to 90 unused sick days at $750 per day and continue receiving health insurance for him and his wife for up to six years.

Scott said DePasquale's characterization of the contract "was his opinion and wasn't fact." Kirby "was paid according to his contract," he added.

Upper Perkiomen teachers, who were told Thursday about Kirby's return, had mixed feelings, said Bob LaSalle, president of the Upper Perkiomen Education Association.

While Kirby, hired in 2004 at an initial annual salary of $135,000, did much to move the district forward during his tenure, some teachers still were smarting after he asked them to take a pay freeze last year while administrators took a partial freeze, LaSalle said.

The teachers new contract does not include raises for those at the top of the salary scale, he said. It was ratified in October, around the same time as the auditor general's report on Kirby's generous retirement deal was released.

"Some people were upset," LaSalle said. "Personally I don't begrudge anyone that negotiates that in their contract."

More disturbing, he said, was that teachers have been kept in the dark about Yonson's replacement.

"We should have a voice in the direction of our schools," he said, "but we don't even know what the plan is."