Amherst School Committee member files complaint to halt superintendent payout


Staff Writer
Published: 8/15/2016 4:53:18 PM

AMHERST — Looking to prevent payment of more than $300,000 severance to departing superintendent Maria Geryk, School Committee member Vira Douangmany Cage has filed a consumer complaint with the state attorney general’s office.

In a copy of the complaint obtained by the Gazette, Douangmany Cage asks “the government to inspect this payout using public funds, issue an emergency injunction against the payout and inspect the terms of the agreement before it is executed.”

“I want to stop the payout,” Douangmany Cage said Monday. “I want a government body like the attorney general’s office to inspect the agreement to make sure it’s legal.”

She added that the complaint is about protecting consumers, including the constituents who elected her to the school board and the children being educated in Amherst’s public schools.

“I want them to look at what we’re doing and make sure the public’s interest is served by this settlement agreement,” Douangmany Cage said.

The Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee and Union 26 School Committee jointly voted 5-3 last week to pay Geryk $309,238, though a revote will be needed when the committees meet again jointly at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the high school library.

Laura Kent, chairwoman of the regional committee, said the revote is procedural because the Union 26 committee lacked a quorum for last week’s vote.

As it stands, Geryk, who earns $158,000 a year, will receive payment equal to one and a half years of salary and benefits, or $295,238 in the current fiscal year. Additionally, Geryk will receive $14,000 in fiscal year 2018 dependent on her health care and employment.

The agenda for the Wednesday meeting also includes a closed meeting to conduct strategy sessions in preparation for contract negotiations with Assistant Superintendent Michael Morris, and his appointment as acting superintendent of schools.

Douangmany Cage was one of the three committee members to vote against the severance agreement. In the complaint, she alleges that the deal involved “deceptive practice and corruption,” with Geryk’s attorney, Michael Long, notifying the school committee’s law firm, Murphy, Hesse, Toomey and Lehane, that she wanted out of her contract and asking for three years of salary and benefits.

Initially, the committee was told by its lawyer that Geryk was alleging breach of contract, including non-compliant performance evaluations, according to Douangmany. A demand letter that was handed out at a subsequent meeting accused individual members of violating Geryk’s civil rights and breach of contract.

Vira Douangmany Cage AG Complaint by GazetteNET on Scribd

Douangmany Cage said she is confident her evaluation was done properly, noting this marked the second year she has completed the process.

Meanwhile, Shutesbury resident Michael Hootstein filed an amended Open Meeting Law complaint Monday. The complaint alleges violations by the regional school committee, Kent and member Katherine Appy during the 14 hours of executive sessions July 13 and 20 and Aug. 1 and 9.

In it, he seeks nullification of the severance vote and states that committee members “intentionally engaged in unlawful deliberation behind closed doors and out of the public’s view, to compel other committee members, by threats of individual lawsuits against them, to pay superintendent Maria Geryk more than $300,000.”

In addition, Hootstein seeks $1,000 civil penalties against Kent and Appy, and release of minutes from the sessions and the Geryk demand letter, which he calls a “smoking gun threatening email.”

His complaint also accuses Kent and Appy of determining whether evaluations of Geryk by committee members were compliant with local and state regulations.

Emily Snyder, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said any Open Meeting Law complaints are filed initially with the public body and then could get to the state office after 30 days if no agreement is reached.

Snyder added there is no set timeline for when the office might act. “Usually it’s about 90 days to issue a determination,” Snyder said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at

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