Former SVUSD superintendent had been overpaid 21k at time of firing

District officials became aware of the clerical error in October, just weeks before Socorro Shiels’ dismissal|

An agreement signed by the former schools superintendent and the school district revealed that the superintendent had been overpaid by almost $21,000, which was to be repaid as part of the terms of the December severance agreement.

Socorro Shiels, the superintendent who the school board fired on Nov. 17 without cause, was overpaid $20,942 over a 16-month period starting in 2019 at the same time as her approved salary increase rose based on a standard step schedule, said Bruce Abbott, associate superintendent. The overpayment – of about $1,000 per month -- was the result of a clerical error and was discovered in October in a routine manner by the business services administration of Sonoma Valley Unified School District, he said.

The December agreement calls for Shiels to receive a “one-time lump sum payment of the cash equivalent of her salary through Sept. 30, 2021,” which extends beyond the date of her original contract that would have expired June 30, 2021. Her gross salary was $18,148.63 per month.

She will also receive a one-time lump sum of the cash equivalent of the health and welfare benefits the district contributes through the end of September at $761.79 per month. Shiels agreed to subtract the overpayment amount from the lump sum payment.

Shiels is responsible for complying with local, state and federal taxes.

Payments for the month of December are prorated to the date of the agreement, which was signed by Shiels on Dec. 9 and then-board chair John Kelly on Dec. 10.

The agreement said that questions arose “regarding interpretation of language” in the termination section of Shiels’ contract. To “avoid the cost of litigation” the district and Shiels agreed to the terms of this settlement agreement, which also defined her last day of employment as effective as the date of the agreement.

The day Shiels was fired a first amendment to her original contract was on the board agenda, but neither Shiels nor the district signed it. It would have increased her salary to Step 7 from Step 6 of the district’s Management Salary Schedule. It also would have changed the terms of the termination clause.

The amendment said that if she were terminated with “less than” 12 months remaining on her contract, she would be paid through the end of that contract. The original contract, and the one that remained in place when she was fired, said that upon termination the district would continue to pay the superintendent’s “full salary and benefits from the date of termination for 12 months, or until the superintendent accepts new employment, whichever occurs first.”

Melanie Blake, who became the district’s board president in December, declined to comment, saying she intends to be open and transparent in her role, but is still learning the legalities and preferred not to make any missteps.

John Kelly, the board president at the time of Shiels’ firing, declined to comment on if the board tried to work with Shiels on repaying the overpayment prior to her dismissal.

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