Cedar Rapids school district promises nearly $350,000 to departing administrators in Washington High scandal
Agreements call for payments to Plagman, Johnson, Cirivello after pledges they won't sue
CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids school district will spend nearly $350,000 over the next four years in payments to three former administrators connected with the fumbled investigation of a substitute teacher now accused of having a sexual affair with a student, records show.
The former administrators — Washington High School Principal Ralph Plagman, former Associate Principal Mike Johnson and district Human Resources Director Jill Cirivello — all retired abruptly this summer.
Each played roles in the mishandling of the case of Washington High substitute teacher Mary Beth Haglin, 24, who was arrested in July and faces a sexual exploitation charge for having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old Washington High student.
The money being paid to them is in addition to the employees’ usual retirement benefits.
According to employment separation agreements reviewed by The Gazette, their annual payments begin in November and were contingent on the employees’ promises not to sue the school district — which Superintendent Brad Buck said is standard in such agreements.
In an email to The Gazette this week about the agreements for Plagman and Johnson, a district spokeswoman said both qualified for retirement benefits.
“The District agreed to the other terms of the agreements after balancing the facts of the investigation with the desire for closure for the student and his family, as well as the desire for closure for the Washington High School community of students, parents, and staff members since the 2016-2017 school year was just around the corner and in recognition of these Administrator’s years of service with the District.”
Separation agreements often come into play when an employer seeks to parts ways with an employee but wants to avoid legal action like a civil rights lawsuit. To get the payouts, typically, an employee has to agree not to sue.
According to their respective agreements, Plagman will receive four annual payments of $42,437; Johnson will receive four payments of $33,857; and Cirivello will receive four payments of $10,809.
“All separation agreements must include some form of consideration for the promises made,” Buck said in an email. “The type and value of the consideration is determined on a case-by-case basis depending upon the circumstances that gave rise to the agreement.”
As administrators at Washington High, 35-year Principal Plagman and 21-year Associate Principal Johnson, who became the school’s athletic director on July 1, conducted an investigation of Haglin in February and determined rumors of an inappropriate relationship unfounded.
Records, however, show they were not trained to investigate a claim of sexual abuse by an employee and did not generate a report about their investigation, although district policy requires it.
Cirivello, who was the district human resources director for nine years, was responsible for removing Haglin from a centralized substitute teacher database after a second investigation in May led to her removal from Washington High.
Cirivello didn’t, and Haglin continued to work in other Cedar Rapids schools for the rest of the school year.
Cirivello, 56, and Johnson, 57, both qualified for early retirement, Buck said. Plagman, 72, qualified for regular retirement benefits.
In order to qualify for retirement benefits, district employees must submit a resignation to the school board, Buck said, which all three employees did. They then may characterize that as a retirement.
When asked why he chose to accept those resignations, rather than terminate the employees outright, Buck pointed to prior district statements.
“The prior statements issued by the District outline the District’s rationale in reaching the decision it did,” he wrote. “The District, in consultation with legal counsel, took the action it believed was in the best interests of students, staff, and the District community.”