WCS: Superintendent David Kafitz to exit post
Superintendent David Kafitz and the Watauga County Board of
Education have agreed to a contract buyout that will grant the education leader $186,110, the
school system announced Thursday.
The board will pay Kafitz’s salary and benefits for 17 of the 39 months remaining on his contract. State law prevents the use of state funds for severance pay, so the amount will be paid from the school system’s local fund balance.
Kafitz has agreed to assist with the transition throughout April, but will not be in the office on a daily basis, Public Information Director Marshall Ashcraft said. He will take vacation leave in May.
“Dr. Kafitz and the board agree that this arrangement is in the best interest of all parties, and the buyout shall not be construed as an admission of any guilt or wrongdoing of any kind by either side,” the school system stated in a news release Thursday afternoon.
His last official day as an employee will be May 31.
“Both parties wish each other well in the future,” the statement concluded. “Neither party will comment beyond this joint press release.”
A message left for Kafitz on Thursday afternoon was not immediately returned.
Assistant Superintendent David Fonseca will serve as interim superintendent until the school board determines how it wishes to move forward, Vice Chairwoman Delora Hodges said. She said the board has not decided what salary Fonseca will receive or how long he will serve in the role.
Hodges would not say whether Kafitz’s departure was a resignation or termination or whether the board was united in its action. She said the board had not voted on the decision and that any action that needs to be conducted in open session would likely take place at the next board meeting April 8.
“We’re acting as a board, so I hate to make an individual comment when it’s really not the time for that,” Hodges said.
Chairman Lee Warren said through his office administrator Thursday that there would be no other comment as part of the legal agreement.
Board members Ron Henries, Barbara Kinsey and Brenda Reese could not immediately be reached Thursday afternoon.
Term of conflict
Kafitz, who said last year that he intended to stay until retirement, recently became ensnared in two conflicts with community members that may have led to his early departure.
In January, owner Chase Luddeke of Mellow Mushroom restaurant sent a letter to members of the school system accusing Kafitz of “making a scene” after a disagreement about how a discount card was to be applied.
Luddeke claimed the superintendent was rude to the wait staff and threatened to exclude the restaurant from participating in the Pioneer Band Card program in the future.
Kafitz apologized to Luddeke after the letter became public, and both said no irreparable harm was done.
Later in January, Watauga County Board of Elections Director Jane Hodges prepared a statement at the request of Kinsey, the school board member, explaining another conflict involving the superintendent that occurred in November 2012.
That day, a disagreement arose about whether students at Green Valley could sit in the gym while voters were casting ballots. Hodges eventually called sheriff’s deputies to ensure that election laws were followed, she wrote in her statement.
Later that day, Kafitz was “very rude” in a phone conversation with Hodges and “even informed me this would be my last election,” she wrote.
Kafitz denied that the conversation had the content or tone Hodges described.
School board reacts
The Board of Education met several times in closed session to discuss personnel after the claims arose, most recently in a special meeting March 19.
Kafitz was expected to serve through July 2016 at an annual salary of $120,000, according to his contract.
The contract lays out some of the superintendent’s responsibilities, as well as procedures for discharge.
“Throughout the term of this contract superintendent shall be subject to discharge by the board for his breach of any of the terms of this agreement; for immoral or disreputable conduct,” or for certain other reasons, the contract states. “If the superintendent is dismissed pursuant to the provisions of this paragraph, this agreement shall terminate and the board’s only obligation shall be to pay the superintendent his compensation up to the day of his dismissal.”
It also specifies that the superintendent may request a hearing before the board to determine the truth or falsity of any charges against him.
If the board opted to unilaterally end the contract, it would have to pay “all of the aggregate salary he would have earned under this employment contract … from the actual date of termination to the ending date set forth in this employment contract.”
School board members have not said whether a hearing took place or how the discussions progressed in closed session, other than stating that several attorneys were involved.
While his time with Watauga County Schools has been short, Kafitz has made several changes that will continue to influence the school system going forward.
During his term, the school system also has hired an assistant superintendent, a human resources director, an exceptional children’s services director, an elementary education director and a director of technology services.
The school system also offered a school psychologist position to Kafitz’s wife, Amy Kafitz. Ashcraft said that Amy Kafitz had not worked in the position and still resides in Union County with her two daughters.
David Kafitz said in a July 2012 interview with the Watauga Democrat that he expected Watauga County Schools staff to demonstrate five things: professionalism, problem solving, a positive attitude, a teamwork mentality and excellence.
He also said at that time that he was looking forward to getting to know key community members.
“I’m the person that’s responsible for maintaining relationships with the community, which I think are paramount,” he said.