With public focus trained on the appointment of an interim superintendent Tuesday night, the Salt Lake City Board of Education also approved a separation agreement with former Superintendent Timothy Gadson III — the state’s first Black superintendent, who held the post only briefly — totaling more than $200,000.

The agreement, approved by unanimous vote of the board as part of its consent agenda, ends the “employment relationship” between Gadson and the school district while “still allowing for the ongoing provision of consulting services by Dr. Gadson.”

Gadson was the first Black educator to lead a Utah school district in Utah. After a nationwide search, Gadson was selected as superintendent in February 2021, and assumed the position in July 2021.

He was abruptly placed on administrative leave in July, a year after he was appointed to the role, but the school board has not explained why, saying only it was “a personnel matter.”

The separation agreement sheds no light on why Gadson was on leave but says he resigned for “personal reasons.”

Allegations have swirled during Gadson’s leave that he faced racial discrimination in the job.

Starting this month through June 2023, Gadson will be paid $18,251.58 per month “in exchange for his availability to provide such consulting services, and regardless of the amount of consulting services actually provided.” 

Gadson will also receive nearly $28,000 for accrued but unused personal leave and vacation hours.

The school district will pay $15,000 to Gadson’s attorneys, Strindberg & Scholnick, LLC., according to the agreement.

The school district will also pay for Gadson’s ongoing health care coverage under COBRA, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act.

The separation agreement does not specify what Gadson will consult on, but says the school board will provide him with “written reports showing the disaggregated academic performance, discipline and graduation rates of the district’s students for the 2021-22 school year.”

The agreement further states that the agreement is a mutual waiver and release of claims.

Who is Timothy Gadson III and why did he want to be the next superintendent of the Salt Lake City School District?

Earlier Tuesday evening, the school board unanimously appointed retired Granite School District Superintendent Martin W. Bates as interim superintendent.

He will serve as interim superintendent while the school board “works to identify and hire a new superintendent,” according to a statement from the school district.

Bates does not plan to apply for the position, said district spokeswoman Yándary Chatwin. He will be paid $18,333 monthly, she said.

Bates retired from the Granite District in 2021 after an education career spanning more than 30 years. His career started as a classroom teacher before moving into school and district-level administration. He served as superintendent of the Granite School District for 11 years.

He earned three degrees from Brigham Young University: a bachelor of science in special education, a doctorate in educational leadership and a law degree from the J. Reuben Clark Law School.

In 1991, Bates served a six-month deployment with the Utah National Guard during Desert Storm. 

He is a graduate of Salt Lake’s Highland High School. He and his wife, Donna, are the parents of eight children, all of them graduates of the Salt Lake City high schools.

Mike Harman, the district’s homeless education liaison and counselor and co-chairman of the Poplar Grove Neighborhood Alliance, took issue with the board’s process in selecting Bates as interim superintendent.  

“The board has failed to allow for meaningful engagement by parents, employees, students and community members in the important task of appointing an interim superintendent. I want to be very clear, this is not about Dr. Bates. It is about your actions as a board and the lack of engagement with parents, community members, students,” he said.

The board met its legal obligation of appointing Bates during a public meeting, but there was no public discussion about the appointment.

“I sincerely hope that you as board members recognize the damage you do to public trust and employee morale when you are not open and transparent with major decisions like this,” he said.

Gadson was the third superintendent of the Salt Lake district in roughly three years. Long-time Salt Lake educator and administrator Larry Madden served as interim superintendent starting in July 2020, when former Superintendent Lexi Cunningham stepped down at the end of the 2019-20 school year after experiencing friction with the school board.

In August, board member Mohamed Baayd told KSL-Radio and KSL-TV that the school board had received complaints against the superintendent that Baayd viewed as racially motivated.

“As a Black person, when I hear them, it’s like someone looking at me and saying, ‘We cannot accept you as who you are. Your culture, your behavior does not match what we are looking for here in our district,’” Baayd said.

A statement issued by board leaders at the time said in part, “It is unfortunate that any board member would knowingly choose to talk about topics that may have been discussed in a closed meeting. While we have heard our community’s desire for more information, the board is limited in our ability to confirm or deny the accuracy of any reported information due to our commitment to maintaining the confidentiality of our closed executive sessions.”

Baayd, who served in the U.S. Navy,  said he looks forward to sitting down with Bates on Friday to chat “veteran to veteran,” get acquainted with him as an educator and introduce himself as an immigrant, entrepreneur, father and husband,

Although the board voted unanimously to appoint Bates as interim superintendent, “a united front is not going to heal that immediately. It’s going to take a while,” Baayd said.

Baayd said he respects the conditions of the separation agreement but some of his earlier concerns linger, as he has observed other educators of color in Utah leave the profession prematurely or the relatively few school administrators of color in the Salt Lake School District, which serves a minority-majority student population.

But he said he is hopeful that Bates can “help us as a board unite together and avoid any more of the issues or calamities we’ve dealt with for a bit.”