Statement Regarding the Daily Herald’s Reporting on Cathy Johnson’s departure

For the past two years, first as candidate and afterwards as a regular speaker during public comment at school board meetings and contributor at the watchdog site, I have repeatedly expressed concerns about the lack of transparency and oversight on the part of the District 214 school board, first with respect to COVID decision-making, and afterward with respect to “de-tracking” (removal of honors classes) and the district’s contracting with the superintendent’s own business, Transeo, among other issues.  I am not a professional but do my best given the limited information available through public sources and the FOIA process.

Now the Daily Herald has reported that the departure of Cathy Johnson, former associate superintendent for finance and operations, is, in fact, to cite the headline, “mysterious.”  While Johnson’s formal termination date was September 15, the public did not learn of her departure until November 17.   To quote the Herald,

Johnson’s departure wasn’t announced publicly at the Sept. 15 school board meeting when the pact was approved. Instead, the board’s formal vote and acceptance of her resignation was disguised as a nondescript “personnel transaction.”

Pat Mogge, the district’s director of community engagement and outreach, confirmed Johnson’s resignation was listed on Personnel Transaction Report Two that the board discussed in closed session, then unanimously voted to approve in open session.

In recent months, board members at their meetings haven’t specifically announced the personnel items they’re voting on after closed session, and their meeting minutes released sometimes a month later do not provide further description — a change from past practice.

What’s more, despite Johnson’s departure being nominally in the form of a resignation, the agreement received by the Herald through the FOIA process details a payout of over $180,000.

As it happens, a supporter shared this same document with me.   What is surprising about the document is that a formal joint press statement was prepared, and the document contains the following text:

On the date of execution of this Agreement, at its Board meeting, if requested, the Board agrees to announce the resignation of the Associate Superintendent by reading or releasing the mutual statement and hereby agrees to restrict and/or limit all comments or response to the content of Exhibits B [a letter of recommendation] and C [the joint press statement].

In other words, it appears intended that Johnson’s departure would be announced, but this did not occur.

I wish to make it clear that I am not a lawyer and make no claims as to whether the District or Board is guilty of any wrongdoing, legally speaking, with respect to the manner or reasons for Johnson’s departure.  I would like to express my hope that the applicable supervisory authorities will investigate the matter if there appears to be a violation of any laws.

However, as anyone in a profession with a code of ethical conduct can attest, to act ethically and with integrity goes beyond merely abiding by the law.  Acting in ways that appear to deliberately keep relevant information away from the public damages the district’s reputation and raises concerns about what else may be hidden from the public.

— Elizabeth Bauer, District 214 School Board Candidate