Superintendent Aitken’s Buyout Part of Contract Agreement

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(Memphis) The large payout given to the superintendent of Shelby County Schools was a result of a mutual agreement between his attorneys and the board of education.

The agreed sum, $323,700, was the result of a negotiated early end to John Aitken’s contract, which would have ended in February of 2015.

According to board members, another clause of Aitken’s contract would have required paying him the remainder of his contract salary, well over $400,000, if Aitken was not selected as the superintendent of the new, merged district.

While Aitken’s statement indicated he left for “my family and personal wellness,” he did not say that he asked for this buyout as a result of the eager search for a new superintendent.

At Tuesday’s school board meeting, the president of the Memphis Education Association raised complaints of such a large sum of money, given the economic state of the district.

“We would like a buyout. Teachers would love a buyout, if you have a pot of gold some place,” said Keith Williams. “You have taken our health care benefits, you have diminished our rights as teachers, you have diminished our salaries; what else can you do to teachers?”

The board recently voted to outsource custodial workers and decrease employee benefits, in efforts to fill a huge budget deficit.

Meanwhile, Kriner Cash, the Memphis City Schools superintendent, and John Aitken, have received hundreds of thousands of dollars to leave their jobs early.

The only difference is that the board had already voted not to keep Cash after his contract expired. Aitken’s future was not yet determined.

Commissioner David Pickler explained that buyout clauses are typical of superintendent contracts, as a means of protecting a person taking great risk to do a crucial job.

“Especially when you’re dealing with a governmental body, or a political body, that a simple change in the majority structure of that body, could cause someone to fall immediately out of favor,” Pickler said. “You’re trying to allow a superintendent to be able to make the decisions that he or she needs to make, and be somewhat free of concerns that just because they make an unpopular recommendation or decision, that they could immediately be terminated and effectively be out in the street without compensation.”

Commissioner Kevin Woods said that if people believe the buyout is extravagant, “It’s only extravagant if you think the superintendent is overpaid. And I tell you from my short time of being on the board, that the work is hard.”

Woods added, “By giving him a year, plus attorney fees and things of that nature, we thought that was fair. Again, the man has given 30 years to this district.”

John Aitken did not return a call for comment Wednesday, but he will appear on Live at 9 Friday morning.