Former chief financial officer sues IDEA Public Schools

1 year 9 months 2 weeks ago Friday, August 07 2020 Aug 7, 2020 August 07, 2020 7:14 PM August 07, 2020 in News - Local

The former chief financial officer for IDEA Public Schools filed a lawsuit Monday, claiming IDEA “terminated him without explanation” and failed to pay him more than $750,000.

Former CFO Wyatt J. Truscheit filed the breach-of-contract lawsuit against IDEA on Monday afternoon in Hidalgo County.

“They promised to pay him a certain amount,” said attorney Rick Schell of McAllen, who represents Truscheit. “And he’s just wanting to get paid.”

A spokeswoman for IDEA declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Truscheit received nearly $508,000 in compensation from July 2018 to June 2019, according to IRS documents filed by IDEA.

The total included nearly $256,000 in base compensation, $90,000 in bonuses and incentives, and $152,000 listed as “other reportable compensation,” according to the IRS Form 990 filed by IDEA. He also received nearly $10,000 in retirement, “other deferred compensation” and nontaxable benefits.

CEO Tom Torkelson hired Truscheit in 2009, according to the lawsuit. In 2012, when he received “a very attractive job offer,” IDEA made Truscheit a better offer — and he signed an employment contract.

“The existence of the Contract between TRUSCHEIT and IDEA was disclosed annually in IDEA’s Federal Form 990 filing with the IRS as well as official bond offering statements,” according to the lawsuit.

The contract included several unusual clauses.

IDEA agreed to pay “actual and incidental costs incurred by the Chief Financial Officer related to the bi-weekly commuting to/from California and/or as otherwise necessary, and the reasonable living and transportation expenses while in the Rio Grande Valley performing his duties for IDEA,” according to the contract.

Truscheit also tied his job to Torkelson.

“Upon termination of the employment or removal from the position of Chief Executive Officer of Thomas Torkelson, this employment contract will be terminated and all amounts remaining hereunder will be paid to the Chief Financial Officer in a lump-sum payment,” according to the contract.

IDEA renewed the contract twice.

Torkelson agreed to step down from the CEO position in April, following a firestorm of criticism about spending by top administrators. He was replaced by Superintendent JoAnn Gama, who now holds both titles.

IDEA didn’t pay Truscheit the lump-sum amount referenced in the contract and terminated him on July 16, according to the lawsuit.

Gama, though, told IDEA employees that Truscheit resigned.

“All IDEA officers and employees, from the leadership team and our board of directors to our campus staff, must continue to hold ourselves to a high standard, with no exceptions,” Gama wrote in an email to employees on July 16. “IDEA has been in the spotlight too often recently for practices of executives, and not for our scholars’ accomplishments and the tremendous work our teachers and staff have done serving our scholars and community during an exceedingly difficult time for schools.”

Truscheit was pressured to resign, Schell said, but he has no desire to bad-mouth IDEA or ill-will toward his former employer.

Truscheit just wants the money IDEA promised him, Schell said. When the charter school system refused to pay, Truscheit was forced to file the lawsuit.

“To date, IDEA has failed to pay the lump sum due to TRUSCHEIT pursuant to the terms of the Contract,” according to the lawsuit. “TRUSCHEIT has been forced to incur reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees and costs to assert his rights under the Contract and prosecute this action.”

Truscheit is owed his base salary, bonuses and incentive compensation, Schell said, which total $750,000 to $1 million.

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