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BOWLING GREEN -- More than three months after the Wood County Educational Service Center and Superintendent Luci Gernot agreed to part ways, Ms. Gernot is to receive $552,650 as part of a separation agreement with the school board.
The board this week approved the settlement, which covers the full salary and retirement contributions she would have received through the end of her contract, which expires July 31, 2014.
Board Vice President Tim Smith said Thursday the money will be paid from the agency's general fund reserves.
"Obviously half a million dollars is half a million dollars," he said. "We don't like that, but I think it will allow us to go in the direction we want to go. Everyone walks away happy, and hopefully everyone learns lessons from this. We want to do good things for kids. We want to continue to do good things for kids."
The educational service center provides a variety of services local school districts typically cannot afford to provide on their own -- everything from psychologists and speech therapists to teacher's aides for special needs children. The problem arose last year when some local school districts began to realize they probably could provide some of those services at a lower cost than they were paying the county agency.
"There were no bones about it," Otsego Superintendent Jim Garber said. "In these economic times, I was scrutinizing the ESC bill and felt that we would be able to provide some of these same services cheaper than the ESC was, so a year ago we withdrew some of our programming from the ESC and took it on ourselves."
In November, officials from Otsego along with Eastwood, Elmwood, Lake, North Baltimore, and Northwood took their concerns to the ESC. They ultimately agreed to commit to contracting with the Wood County ESC for services with the stipulation that they would receive a monetary credit from the agency for next school year and that the ESC would work on ways to improve efficiency.
"They've always been very, very pleased with the quality of the service we provide," Mr. Smith said. "But we needed to do some rethinking about how we were delivering those services so we could be more efficient and be able to lower the cost to them. Literally, we decided to reinvent the Wood County ESC, and we are in the process of doing right now an extensive review of our service delivery model."
As part of its reinvention, he said, the board decided to bring in new management. Ms. Gernot was out; retired Penta Career Center Superintendent Fred Susor was brought in as interim superintendent.
Ms. Gernot, former superintendent of Rossford schools, had been hired in 2007 as assistant superintendent at the ESC. When long-time Superintendent Doug Garman retired in 2009, she was named superintendent. Mr. Smith concedes Ms. Gernot inherited an agency that long had been run in a particular way.
"We just felt we needed a new management style," he said. "I would tell you that decision, however, does not have any reflection on her qualifications or her abilities, and we hold her in a great deal of high esteem and respect. At the same time, we need the cooperation of our local districts if we're going to stay in business so to make it comfortable for everybody, Luci agreed a change in leadership would be appropriate."
Ms. Gernot could not be reached for comment.
Gina Fernbaugh, treasurer of the ESC, said the separation payment will be made June 3 from the agency's reserves of $3.5 million. The ESC gets its funding from state and federal grants, contracts for services with school districts, and a state subsidy of $30 for each student in the six local districts it serves plus Bowling Green City Schools, she said.
Mr. Smith said the board has retained Sandra Frisch, superintendent of the Lucas County ESC, to assist with the search for a new leader. Applications are being accepted through Friday, he said, and the board hopes to name a new, permanent superintendent by Aug. 1.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6129.