By Kevin Kelley
Geoffrey Palmer, whom the Westlake City Schools hired Monday night to be its interim superintendent, remains under contract to the West Geauga Local Schools through July 31, 2015.
In April, the West Geauga Board of Education voted 4-1 to remove Palmer as superintendent effective June 13 and give him the title of “special assistant for transition.”
Palmer’s sole supporter on the board at the time, Ben Kotowski, told the Geauga Times Courier, West Life’s sister paper, the title was mostly “a sham employment for his pension.” The job, Kotowski said, had no specific duties or hours but involved assisting the district’s interim superintendent.
An agreement between Palmer and the West Geauga Local Schools states that Palmer’s duties as special assistant for transition will be done “off site.” His salary as special assistant will be essentially the same as it was during his two years as superintendent – $133,000. The agreement allows Palmer to seek employment elsewhere.
Palmer’s difficulties leading the West Geauga district began when he was hired in August 2012. Some administrators favored the other finalist, Joelle Mahyar, in the superintendent search, according to Tony Lange, a reporter with the Geauga Times Courier. That caused a split among school board members, and the vote to hire Palmer was 3-2. His annual salary was $133,000.
In November 2013, two of the three members who supported Palmer were defeated in their re-election bids. A board member who never supported Palmer, Michael Kilroy, became board president. Friction between Palmer and Kilroy ensued, Lange said, and the two reportedly clashed over even small issues.
However, Palmer enjoyed support among community members and teachers and district staffers, even those who initially favored the other finalist, Lange added.
One issue that apparently fed the conflict was open enrollment, a policy by which students who reside outside of the district could attend its schools. Because of the oddities of Ohio public school financing, the West Geauga district received $5,745 from the student’s resident district. A district typically receives much less than that from the state for each student who lives within the district’s boundaries. Advocates of open enrollment said it benefited the West Geauga district, where enrollment was declining.
The issue became politicized, and the board voted to place limits on open enrollment, something Palmer opposed. After Palmer was reassigned, the board reversed itself on the open enrollment issue. And Kilroy, citing a family medical situation, resigned from the school board in May.
Palmer told West Life he is not looking to push for open enrollment in the Westlake City Schools.
Palmer explained his removal as West Geauga superintendent as the result of philosophical differences with the school board.
“The details are certainly unique,” he said of his experience there, referring to the split vote that led to his hiring.
Westlake school board President Carol Winter said the board was well-aware of Palmer’s exit earlier this year as West Geauga superintendent.
“Of course, we wanted to look into that,” Winter said.
However, after board members spoke to Palmer’s references, any concerns over those circumstances evaporated, she said.
“His references really spoke very highly of him,” she said.
The issues related to the removal of Palmer as superintendent in West Geauga are not related to running the Westlake district, Winter said.
Winter said Palmer has excellent results with regard to academic achievement. He also has a strong background in fiscal management, she added.