FIGHTING BACK: Former Leader Defends Claims
Ankeny’s former superintendent, Dr. Matthew Wendt, has broken his silence on the allegations he duped the school board into paying him a six-figure settlement as he prepared to accept another superintendent’s job in Illinois.
In an interview with WHO-HD, Wendt said the board knew full well what was happening as he considered numerous offers during his final months of his time in Ankeny. He said, “It was a shock that someone on the board would say we didn’t know he was looking when they knew good and well i was.” Wendt added, “I just feel like this idea that we didn’t know what Dr. Wendt was doing is just preposterous. I just don’t understand it.”
The Ankeny School Board filed a lawsuit to stop Wendt’s $176,000 previously agreed-upon settlement for leaving the district while still under contract. The suit claims Wendt should have disclosed to board members as they negotiated terms of his settlement that a school district in Oswego, Illinois, had already offered him a job. The suit said board members wouldn’t have offered Wendt that settlement had they known about the other job.
Wendt maintains Board President George Tracey knew since April he had been looking for a job after both sides decided it would be best if Wendt found other work. Current members, Wendt said, didn’t like his previous work to build two new high schools. All but one board member joined the board in the election that followed Wendt’s efforts to build those schools. Wendt said they didn’t agree with the plans he started.
Wendt offered that numbers show he wasn’t out to cheat taxpayers. He said the terms of his original contract would have guaranteed nearly 4 years of his annual salary if the board fired him without cause. The settlement he had accepted was supposed to give him the equivalent of one year’s salary. He said he hasn’t received anything toward that.
Wendt’s wife already had a contract for the coming year as a teacher at Urbandale High School and his daughter is a student at Ankeny High School. He said since he changed jobs so late, his wife and daughter decided to stay in Iowa after he moved to Illinois.
Board President George Tracey didn’t return a message for comment on Wendt’s statements.
You can read the entire lawsuit here.
Here’s Wendt’s statement:
DES MOINES, Iowa (July 18, 2012) — Matthew Wendt, former superintendent of the Ankeny Community School District, has retained Thomas W. Foley, an attorney with law firm of Babich Goldman, P.C. Dr. Wendt retained Mr. Foley to represent him in a lawsuit filed by the Ankeny district. The suit, prompted and approved by the Ankeny Board of Education in a 4-to-2 vote, seeks to rescind the amendments to Dr. Wendt’s employment contract, agreed to by the district’s board of directors on May 30, 2012.
On May 30, 2012, the Ankeny Community School District posted a news release on its web site with the headline, Dr. Matthew Wendt Resigns as Superintendent of Ankeny Community Schools. In the release, Ankeny School Board President George Tracy stated, “The Board was satisfied that Dr. Wendt’s performance was meeting our expectations and deserved a salary increase and contract extension. We were particularly pleased that Dr. Wendt was in agreement regarding the elimination of the four-year severance provision. In our opinion, the transition allowance has been well-earned over the past five years and will allow Dr. Wendt the opportunity to pursue his other opportunities.”
One day after the May 30 news release was issued, Mr. Tracy in his role as president of the Ankeny School Board, stated to a KCCI-TV reporter that he and the board were unaware that Dr. Wendt was “…even interviewing for another position.” He added, “…We would have made the stipulation that if he had another position, we would not have paid him the transition severance we paid him.” That statement, of course, conflicts with the district’s own news release, which quoted Mr. Tracy as stating that the separation allowance would “allow Dr. Wendt the opportunity to pursue his other opportunities.”
STATEMENT FROM DR. MATTHEW WENDT
I appreciate this opportunity to provide the true facts of my resignation as superintendent of the Ankeny Community School District to the public and the media:
- It has been previously reported that on May 24, I was negotiating with the board for an amount equal to 18 months of my base salary in exchange for my resignation. What has not been reported is that negotiations regarding my potential departure started more than three weeks earlier when it became clear that George Tracy, president of the Ankeny Board of Education, wanted a change in leadership and my continuing employment contract was an obstacle. I also was told at that time by Mr. Krausman that Mr. Tracy said, “yes” to “8, 9 or even 10 months” of severance in exchange for my resignation.
- At no time during the negotiations was I ever asked if I had job offers. Had it mattered, I would have been asked. Had it mattered, the contract would have been drafted so that if I became employed, the separation payments made to me would have ceased or been reduced if and when I obtained other employment. Contract language of that nature was never proposed because board president Tracy, and the other board members who voted in favor of the amendments to my contract, wanted to buyout my contract, hire a new superintendent and move forward.
- Furthermore, I provided the board, through board president Tracy and board attorney Krausman with sufficient information to put the board on notice that I was actively seeking other employment. I specifically told them I had private and public employment opportunities available to me if I resigned my employment before my contract expired in two years.
- Prior to the board’s final buyout offer approved on May 30, my references were being checked for positions since early April. (The district’s own lawsuit notes that I was a candidate for a position in Norfolk, Virginia.) I emailed president Tracy and the board that I was a candidate for other employment. In fact, the search firm hired for Oswego School District was the same firm for an earlier superintendent’s vacancy. I have been aware for some time that, in addition to other references, a current board member and two well-known Ankeny citizens were interviewed by the search firm used in two of the superintendent search processes for which I was a candidate, including Oswego School District.
- Just hours before the special school board meeting on May 30, I informed board attorney Krausman that if the Ankeny district was going to agree to amend my contract to include the transition allowance, my resignation date needed to be changed from July 6, 2012, to June 30, 2012. In addition, I asked board attorney Krausman whether I it was even possible for me to serve as a superintendent in two different school districts. Presumably, he informed the board of the change in my resignation date and my inquiry regarding the legality of being under two contracts.
- On May 30, the Ankeny Board of Education met in a closed-to-the-public strategy session to discuss a potential amendment to my employment contract and resignation letter. The board met in private with its attorney (Krausman) for more than an hour and a half. I was not in the room at any time during this closed-to-the-public strategy session. I was in my office and available to answer any questions the board might have believed important. At that point in time, I had a potential employment opportunity from a private consulting firm, a job offer from the Oswego School District, and a job with the Ankeny School District.
- When the closed-to-the-public strategy session finally ended, I was offered one year of severance pay in exchange for my resignation as part of a new three-year employment contract, which included a 3.25 percent base salary increase and an automatic increase to my annual annuity payment. My wife and I decided to take the resignation and severance because we believed—and still do—that it gave both sides what they wanted.
- I signed the employment contract with the Oswego Community Unit School District 308 on May 31, 2012. After District 308 publicized my hiring on June 1, 2012, neither Mr. Tracy nor Mr. Krausman contacted me to express a concern that I had somehow violated the terms of the amendment to my employment agreement. In fact, no one on the board communicated with me directly about any concerns regarding the resignation and approved contract amendment.