By Jesse Wood
March 28, 2013. Come June, Supt. David Kafitz will no longer be employed with Watauga County Schools. He recently agreed to accept a buyout of his contract from the Watauga County Board of Education that amounts to $186,110.
Watauga County Schools announced the decision on Thursday afternoon, less than 9 months since Kafitz has been at the helm of the school system. Kafitz will remain an employee with the WCS until May 31, assisting with transition during the month of April. However in the month of May, he will be on vacation leave.
The buyout represents 17 months of salary and benefits for the remaining 39 months of Kafitz’s four-year contract. These terms are likely the result of the numerous closed-session meetings of late for the school board that involved personnel matters and legal counsel.
According to a joint release from the school board and Kafitz, which also stated neither side would issue further comment on the matter, “This arrangement is in the best interest of all parties, and the buy-out shall not be construed as an admission of any guilt or wrongdoing of any kind by either side.”
For the past two months, Kafitz has been swimming against the tide of public opinion in the High Country for questionable behavior on multiple occasions, including an outburst at Mellow Mushroom in downtown Boone, where Kafitz, according to the general manager of the restaurant, was unhappy with his rate of discount he received using the Pioneer Band Card, which is a fundraiser for the high school band.
In a blistering letter written in January, Chase Luddeke of Mellow Mushroom wrote that Kafitz told him, “As the superintendent of Watauga County Schools, I will make sure that Mellow Mushroom is not allowed to participate in the Pioneer Card next year.”
But a week before that episode was made public School Board Member Barbara Kinsey raised numerous concerns of teachers who were afraid to speak out because they feared for their jobs. These were concerns, she noted, that had been prevalent since Kinsey and other school board members were candidates for the general election in late summer/early fall.
From there, it just seemed to snowball for Kafitz, a public relation’s nightmare from which there apparently was no turning back. Following the Mellow Mushroom letter, Watauga County Board of Elections Director Jane Ann Hodges penned her own statement, at the request of Kinsey, about an incident that occurred on Election Day.
According to Hodges, Kafitz called her on Election Day to discuss an issue that came up between the Green Valley Elementary principal and an election official at the voting precinct located in the elementary school’s gymnasium.
Hodges wrote, “Dr. Kafitz said that he wanted to hear my side of the ‘story.’ When I tried to tell him who is allowed in a voting enclosure…he told me to shut-up and he would tell me when to talk.”
Then a few weeks after Hodges released her statement, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners offered their two cents at its annual spring retreat to prepare for the upcoming budget.
On the second day of the two-day retreat, the commissioners voiced concerns they had heard from constituents – including parents, teachers and principals – and pondered loudly on how to avoid paying a cost-of-living raise, mandated from Raleigh, to Kafitz with county funds.
Amidst this two-month period of turmoil, the school board members were surprisingly silent, although Kinsey did acknowledge that at least one of the closed-session meetings regarded the recent controversies swirling around Kafitz.
Late Thursday afternoon when Kafitz’s resignation was announced school board members either couldn’t be reached or declined to comment immediately on the matters. Kafitz also wasn’t available for comment.
The decision to accept the contract was a unanimous one by the school board.
State funds may not be used as severance pay by state law, so the $186,110 – roughly one-and-a-half-years salary – will be paid from the “school system’s unencumbered local fund balance,” which according to WCS Spokesman Marshall Ashcraft, is reserve funds not already committed to anything else.
He also added that he didn’t expect Kafitz to be in the office regularly in the near future, but he will be “officially available.”
“I don’t anticipate him being here,” Ashcraft said. “They’ve got that period in which he’ll be available if needed for the month of May.”
With the majority of the schools system’s funds coming from either county or state, it’s likely that county funds will be used to cover the severance package, especially in light of the statute preventing the use of state funds for severance pay.
For Watauga County Commissioner Perry Yates, who was so adamant about the reluctance to use county funds to pay for Kafitz’s raise that was to come down the pike, the use of county funds for Kafit’z severance package wasn’t of terrible concern.
“Sometimes you have to do what you have to do, and I am sure the school board used their best judgment on this and did their due diligence,” Yates said. “Maybe its county funds, but in the long experience of time, retaining principals and teachers is what we need in this county, and I think it will be for the betterment of Watauga County Schools and Dr. Kafitz. It’s a win-win for both parties, and I am glad they reached a settlement.”
Yates said the school board did the best they could do with a bad situation.
“Now I hope they will take their time over the summer and pick a great choice,” Yates said, adding that he would prefer a local candidate – if qualified – to be the “first and last” to be considered at the helm of Watauga County Schools in the future.
The search for a new superintendent might be costly as well depending on the route the school board chooses. After former WCS Supt. Marty Hemric announced, in September 2011, that he would be moving across county lines, the former school board noted that N.C. School Board Association’s “head-hunting” rates started at $10,000.
How the school board handles the search this year remains to be seen?
Update on Transition Period
David Fonseca, current assistant superintendent of WCS, will carry out additional duties as needed to support the school system in day-to-day operations until the board announces its plan for an interim superintendent at its next meeting on April 8.
Fonseca said, “We appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding as we work through this time of transition. We remain absolutely committed to working with teachers, parents, and the community to put students first.”
To read about a dozen articles about Kafitz and the events leading up to this announcement, click here: https://www.hcpress.com/tag/kafitz-controversy