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In Schools Fiasco, Axed Administrator Seeks Immunity

The Richmond School Board not only handed former Assistant Superintendent Tom Sheeran a golden parachute when they hit the eject button, but also gave him a pass from taking blame for crashing the plane, recently obtained documents show.

Sheeran left last November amid political furor over a scandal-clouded $700,000 move of the school system's 15-person IT department.

A draft separation agreement obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by local attorney and blogger John Butcher alternately refers to Sheeran's departure as a voluntary resignation and as a termination. But the agreement is specific in protecting the "School Board, any of its individual members, Dr. [Deborah] Jewell-Sherman, and any and all other employees or agents of the School Board" from lawsuits by Sheeran for wrongful termination or any other matters related to his departure.

The agreement lets Sheeran off the hook for any of his administrative actions found to have been improper. The draft agreement also gave Sheeran full salary through the end of March. City Auditor Umesh Dalal recently released a scathing report on school finance and procurement and is expected to release results of his investigation into the IT move later this month.

A clause in Sheeran's agreement protecting the board's individual members from potential suits for libel or slander was allegedly the subject of protest by Sheeran's lawyers.

Sheeran's attorney, Richard Hawkins, previously confirmed Sheeran would refrain from suing the School Board if he received an additional $25,000.

An initial court ruling ordering the School Board to hand over the agreement was first delivered March 24. But after a lengthy protest by the board's outside attorney, Robyn Seabrook of Harrell & Chambliss, Circuit Court Judge Melvin R. Hughes asked lawyers for both sides to file briefs on why Sheeran's agreement was or wasn't protected from FOIA disclosure.

Rejecting the school system's attempt to foil FOIA, the judge ruled in Butcher's favor a second time April 23. It wasn't until May 1 that Seabrook handed the document over. Hughes' ruling also requires the school system to pay Butcher's $4,500 in legal fees.

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