Zullinger, School Board strike agreement

Published 10:00 pm Friday, July 30, 2010

WINDSOR – A relationship that began with fanfare and concluded with fireworks came officially came to an end Thursday afternoon.

Dr. Chip Zullinger, the Superintendent of Bertie County Schools who brought innovative leadership but ran into several obstacles in the past year, resigned his post after reaching a mutual agreement with the Bertie County Board of Education.

At the conclusion of three days of work sessions, the board voted to enter an agreement with Dr. Zullinger to end his term as Superintendent retroactively on July 16. That was the date he was suspended by the board in a letter from Board Attorney Rod Malone.

In the letter, Malone said the board had reason to investigate Dr. Zullinger’s removal from his post.

As part of Thursday’s agreement, the school board rescinded the suspension and reinstated Dr. Zullinger, then accepted his resignation. The former superintendent will receive a one-time payment of $66,637.29 which is equal to six months of salary and benefits.

The parties also agreed that the board would end its investigation into Dr. Zullinger’s time as superintendent.

“In view of my resignation and at my request, the Board agrees that the school system will discontinue its pending investigation of my performance/conduct,” the agreement reads on Zullinger’s behalf. “The school system will take no action related to my certification and/or licensure other than to respond to written requests from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction or the North Carolina State Board of Education.”

The agreement went on to say that the school district will not contest any application for unemployment benefits Dr. Zullinger may make.

In addition, the agreement indicates that neither party will initiate legal action or administrative proceedings against each other stemming from Dr. Zullinger’s employment with the board.

The board and the former superintendent released a joint statement which is, by agreement, the only statement to be made about the termination of the relationship.

The statement reads, “At its meeting July 29, 2010, the Bertie County Board of Education voted to rescind the suspension of Dr. Chip Zullinger and to accept his resignation effective July 16, 2010. Dr. Zullinger will not be returning to service with the school system. The Board and Dr. Zullinger believe it is in each party’s mutual interest to part ways at this time based on irreconcilable differences.

“Furthermore, both the board and Dr. Zullinger believe that it is in the school system’s and community’s best interest to part ways rather than spending funds on a lengthy dispute,” it concluded.

As part of the agreement, both parties agreed they would make “no disparaging statement” against the other.

While admitting to their disputes, the agreement also specifies that neither party agrees they have committed any misconduct.

“The parties agrees that this Agreement is intended to bring resolution and closure to the issues in dispute,” it reads. “Neither party admits to any wrongdoing by entering into this agreement.”

After entering closed session to discuss the agreement, the board came into open session to record their decision.

Vice Chairman Alton Parker made a motion to enter into the agreement and the motion passed with a 5-0 vote.

Board member Pamela Chamblee, however, said she agreed to all terms except one. She said she supported the terms of the agreement except her unwillingness to offer any monetary compensation as part of the deal.

During his term as superintendent, Dr. Zullinger led the school district to unprecedented academic success. During the 2008-2009 academic year, Bertie County Schools had seven of nine schools meet Adequate Yearly Progress and preliminary results for last year indicate six schools met the standard.

The problems between the superintendent and board began when there was a request to move the Bertie Early College High School to the Vernon James Center in Roper. The superintendent reportedly favored the move while the majority of the board opposed it.

It arose again a few weeks ago with the Connect Bertie program which would have provided high-speed internet and computers to roughly 1,400 homes in the county. The board was unhappy with a contract with CenturyLink and eventually cancelled a press conference in which North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue was scheduled to announce the initiative.

The school board then began researching other financial issues and were informed that the fund balance of the school district had been reduced from $790,000 to less than $150,000. The financial constraints led the board to begin investigating financial policies and the conduct of the superintendent as it related to those issues.

Thursday afternoon’s agreement ended that investigation and the term of the superintendent.