LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Jefferson County Public Schools paid its former public information officer Lauren Roberts $200,000 last fall to settle a dispute over how she left the district.


A copy of the confidential agreement, obtained by WDRB news on Monday through an open records request, shows that the district agreed to pay Roberts $120,000, and her lawyers $80,000, on Aug. 19, 2013 – nearly a year after she was fired.


Roberts, who had worked at JCPS for 23 years, confirmed she reached a “financial agreement” with the district but declined to elaborate because of the confidentiality agreement that was included as part of the deal.


According to the agreement, JCPS was also supposed to “rescind” Roberts' termination and instead list her official separation from the district as a “resignation” effective Aug. 23, 2012.


The district admitted no wrongdoing as part of the deal and Roberts agreed not to sue and never to apply for another job with JCPS.


Ben Jackey, a district spokesman, said the district settled with Roberts to avoid a costly legal battle.


“While we stand behind what we have done, you have to weigh a lot of things,” he said. “Do we fight the fight that we think is the right fight and do so with an open-ended checkbook, which is the taxpayers' checkbook, or do we try to settle a situation and make a good business decision?”

The settlement says Roberts had threatened to sue JCPS for violations of her constitutional rights, though it does not specify what specific claims Roberts might have made against the district.

In May 2012, Roberts' job as public information officer was one of 89 central office positions frozen or eliminated by Superintendent Donna Hargens as part of an administrative reorganization. At the time, Roberts made $129,243 annually.

On July 1, Roberts was moved to human resources and received a $10,000 cut in pay. She was fired two months later for misconduct and insubordination, according to a copy of her termination letter obtained by WDRB News through an open records request.

The settlement came from the district's taxpayer-funded general fund, yet six of the seven members of the Jefferson County Board of Education told WDRB News on Friday they knew nothing about it. The seventh member, board chairwoman Diane Porter, did not return multiple phone calls.

There was no record of the Roberts' payout in financial expenditures submitted to the board for approval around that time, according to a review of board documents by WDRB News.

 “I was not aware of any of this,” said Linda Duncan, a board member who represents south Louisville. “How does something like this happen without the school board knowing about it? As a board member, this is very, very concerning to me.”

Jackey said JCPS was eventually reimbursed for the $200,000 settlement by an insurance company. Jackey said the board approved the policy that covers JCPS against employment disputes, but the terms of the policy do not require the board to sign off on individual settlements.

“We have a contract approved with our insurance carrier on how we handle these things,” he said. “Our legal team works with settlements all the time and the board approves the contracts by which this is done. The individual settlements they do not approve.”

William McMurry, a Louisville attorney specializing in employment law, said school board members have the right to demand more information about the payment.

“I would think that something like this would have to be approved by the school board, and if it wasn't and the school board doesn't know about it, something is fishy, said McMurry.

McMurry, who is not involved in the Roberts case, said it appears JCPS' lawyers determined “they were at risk of a threatened lawsuit” when the district decided to reach “a resolution” with Roberts.

“It happens often that when there is a dispute between an employee and employer -- especially in a high profile matter -- that it be handled privately and confidentially, so that it goes away,” McMurry said. “However, this is a public school district and taxpayer funds we are talking about.”

School board member Carol Haddad says the board should have been told about the transaction.

“This is all on the superintendent,” Haddad said. “She didn't tell us about this and that is her responsibility. We need to know what is going on with money that that is coming out of our budget and the only way for us to know that is for her to tell us. That did not happen.”

Board members Debbie Wesslund, David Jones Jr. , Chris Brady and Chuck Haddaway also said they had no knowledge of the payout. Wesslund, Jones and Brady did not want to comment about it.

The district and the school board have been criticized for the way JCPS is spending money, as finances were the focal point mentioned in a recent year-long state audit conducted by Kentucky Auditor Adam Edelen.

The audit resulted in 45 findings and more than 200 recommendations across six categories that included overall governance, policies, the district's internal audit process and information technology systems.

Among the findings -- the JCPS board generally doesn't have the “level of understanding” to independently examine and approve the district's budget.

“Our road to financial transparency is a continuous journey,” Haddaway said upon hearing about the payout to Roberts. “Maybe this will shine some light on other things.”

Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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