July 17, 2008

Zolkoski Out of a Job in Tulsa

By Gary Long, The Brownsville Herald, Texas

Jul. 17--Former BISD Superintendent Michael Zolkoski is out of a job in Tulsa but $400,000 richer after problems at an alternative school led to his departure.

Zolkoski and the Tulsa School Board agreed Monday to end his contract effective Oct. 1. The agreement will pay Zolkoski $400,000 to settle a contract that was supposed to run through June 2010, the Tulsa World reported on its Web site.

At a news conference after a special meeting to evaluate Zolkoski's job performance, Tulsa school board President Gary Percefull said public controversy over the Tulsa Academic Center had compromised Zolkoski's effectiveness. Percefull said the school board had not asked for Zolkoski's resignation and that Zolkoski made the decision to leave on his own.

The center had come under fire after the Tulsa World published "a series of stories documenting student, parent and employee accounts of crowding and frequent violence at the Tulsa Academic Center, an alternative school for students with behavior infractions that Zolkoski founded based on similar programs in his previous districts," the Web site article states.

"Zolkoski came under public scrutiny after an investigation by the school board's own attorneys confirmed those accounts and also found repeated violations of federal and state laws, as well as district policies, for the treatment of special education students who were sent to the alternative school," the article states.

The Brownsville Academic Center, a school for students with discipline problems, was established while Zolkoski was here.

Zolkoski left the Brownsville Independent School District in July 2006, leaving behind a $208,000 salary after BISD agreed to let him out of his contract early.

BISD hired Zolkoski in November 2003 and signed a three-year contract worth $195,000 annually, which made him the highest paid superintendent in BISD history. He later was given a raise to $208,000 and his contract was extended through 2008.

Zolkoski could be eligible for Texas retirement benefits. According to the Texas Retirement System, educators eligible for retirement are entitled to 69 percent of their three highest-paid years.

However, educators are not eligible for retirement benefits until they are at least 50 years old with 30 years of service. Zolkoski was 58 when he left, but it is not clear how many years of eligibility he had in Texas though he had been a superintendent in the state for 20 years.

Before BISD, Zolkoski was superintendent of the Judson Independent School District in San Antonio. He also served as superintendent in the Lamar, New Caney and Pearsall districts in Texas, and also in Lafayette, La.


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