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Our view: Bring new leader with better contract to DeKalb School District 428

Now that the DeKalb School District 428 board and its superintendent have agreed to a settlement, it’s time to turn the page.

On Tuesday, board members unanimously approved a settlement with Doug Moeller that will pay him through April 30, when he will retire. Including the work Moeller has missed since he was placed on leave in September, he will have been paid more than $100,000 not to work.

In exchange, Moeller will walk away from the final two years of a five-year contract, during which he was scheduled to earn more than $400,000 in salary.

This is not a productive way to spend public funds. Our hope is that district officials learn from this episode and do a better job protecting taxpayers in future employee contracts by making them shorter-term and making it clear that employees can be terminated for causes such as sexual harassment and retaliation.

The deal that allows Moeller to walk away is better than most working people, who would have been fired months ago.

Just weeks into the school year, Moeller was accused of harassment by Michele Albano, Moeller’s hand-picked choice to take over as principal at DeKalb High School this school year. She said he had threatened to ruin her career after she insisted their personal relationship, which she said grew over the previous summer, should be platonic.

Albano filed a grievance with the school district and received an emergency no-contact order from a Kane County judge, which required Moeller to stay at least 100 feet from her at all times.

However, Albano did not go to court Oct. 6 to face Moeller, and the order was dismissed. Moeller was never charged with any crime and has never publicly responded to the allegations.

In October, we wrote that if there was a clear and convincing case Albano’s allegations are true, that Moeller should be fired. But short of mutual agreement, personal disability or death, Moeller’s contract said he could be fired for cause only for “any conduct deemed to be neglect of duty or for the commission of any crime.”

Board members settled on this payout as the most expedient way to make a clean break. They chose to be practical rather than take a stand.

A clean break will be good for the school district, which has had only a part-time leader in interim Superintendent Bradley Hawk for most of the year.

In the wake of this controversy, public interest in serving on the board has exploded. A board for which only two names appeared on the ballot for four seats in 2015 will have 10 people vying for three seats this year.

Those who win in April should help decide who the next school superintendent will be and what kind of contract he or she will receive. They also will help decide how District 428 will meet other challenges that directly affect children and taxpayers in DeKalb, Cortland and Malta.

We hope that this episode will be remembered in the district and in the regrettable event it should be repeated, officials will act more decisively.

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