Board announces it's buying out contract UPDATE: Stellar out as school superintendent

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Posted: Thursday, August 11, 2011 11:07 am | Updated: 1:41 pm, Mon Feb 4, 2013.

Dr. Art Stellar has been ousted as superintendent of Burke County Public Schools.

Board Chairman Catherine Thomas issued the following statement following a marathon board meeting that started at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday and ended well past midnight:

"August 11, 2011

"This morning the Burke County Board of Education voted affirmatively to exercise the buyout of Superintendent Arthur W. Stellar's contract.

"The position of Acting Superintendent has been accepted by Mr. Larry Putnam.  Please join me in welcoming and supporting Mr. Putnam in his new position!

06:52 a.m."

Thomas and board members Buddy Armour, Susan Stroup and Sam Wilkinson voted in favor of the action at approximately 1:07 a.m. today.

Karen Sain and Tim Buff -- two of the remaining three board members who voted to hire Stellar on Sept. 29, 2009 -- voted against buying out the superintendent's contract.

The seventh board member, Rob Hairfield, was absent.

After the vote, the board went into executive session to discuss who would act as superintendent in the interim.

The board chose Putnam, who has been principal of Draughn High School in Valdese. He officially took over as superintendent on Thursday.

Stellar's contract allows the school board to unilaterally terminate his contract at any time, either for cause or through a buyout.

Exercicising the buyout clause obliges the board to make a severance payment that includes "all of the aggregate salary he would have earned" "together with the value of all benefits" through the full term of the contract.

The buyout may cost the school district more than $300,000. Board members indicated that they expected to receive a better estimate of the actual amount when they have August's regular board meeting, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday in the West Concord Resource Center, 509 W. Concord.

Stellar has nearly 23 months remaining on his contract, which was to end on June 30, 2013.

The school board hired Stellar at an annual salary of $144,500 with a provision for annual increases of at least 3 percent effective each year on July 1. At that rate, his current annual salary would be about $153,300.

In addition, the contract provides for accrual of vacation and sick days, an annual contribution to Stellar's retirement plan or tax-deferred annuity based on his own contribution (up to 6 percent of salary) to the retirement program and a school board-paid life insurance policy in which Stellar retains the cash value.

Board members said it's their intention to buy out the contract with money accumulated in the school district's fund balance, known colloquially as its "savings account."

Finance Officer Keith Lawson reported last month that the district had more than $4 million in the fund balance, which resulted in large part from a hiring freeze and energy-conservation efforts in 2010-11. The school board has appropriated part of that fund balance to salaries for 2011-12, reducing the number of employees who had to be let go because of budget constraints.