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Documents: IDEA Public Schools approved $900,000 severance package for CEO Tom Torkelson

1 month 4 days 18 hours ago Friday, May 29 2020 May 29, 2020 May 29, 2020 5:09 PM May 29, 2020 in News - Local

IDEA Public Schools approved a $900,000 severance package for CEO Tom Torkelson in April, according to documents released on Friday.

The IDEA board of directors approved a “CEO Transition Plan Agreement” on April 17, when it replaced Torkelson with Superintendent JoAnn Gama.

Gama and Torkelson founded IDEA in August 2000 with just 150 students, according to the IDEA website. During the next two decades, IDEA became a national model for charter schools.

Last year, though, plans to lease a private jet and spending on San Antonio Spurs tickets, among other controversies, raised questions about Torkelson’s leadership.

As part of the transition plan, IDEA agreed to pay $900,000 to Torkelson — $400,000 within 10 business days of the agreement and $500,000 within 10 business days of Dec. 31.

Torkelson will be allowed to call himself a “founder” of IDEA and “CEO Emeritus.” The agreement also included a section on non-disparagement.

“IDEA and the IDEA Releasors will not in any manner, directly or indirectly, personally or through third parties, engage in any conduct or communications designed or intended to harm, disparage or defame the goodwill or reputation of Torkelson by any means,” according to the agreement. “Torkelson will not in any manner, directly or indirectly, personally or through third parties, engage in any conduct or communications designed or intended to harm, disparage, harass, retaliate or defame the goodwill or reputation of IDEA or the IDEA Releasors by any means.”

KRGV-TV filed a public information request for the agreement on April 21.

IDEA received the public information request that day, but IDEA didn’t immediately process the request because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For these reasons, we currently are not processing open record requests,” according to an email from IDEA on April 21. “We will resume processing requests within the timeframe required by state law once our administrative offices resume regular activities and/or our county and state emergency declarations have expired.”

IDEA released the seven-page agreement on Friday. IDEA also provided a copy of a letter from board Chairman Al Lopez.

“With the assistance of professional advisers, counsel and a respected independent facilitator, an agreement was reached whereby IDEA Public Schools will pay Tom $900,000 to facilitate this transition,” Lopez wrote in the letter. “That amount is roughly what Tom was paid in salary and performance bonus in 2019, and is in lieu of paying out the 2 1/4 years remaining on his employment contract.”

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