Document reveals DiChiara alleged misconduct before board sought contract buyout

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 19, 2013 

Larry DiChiara

The mysterious departure of Larry DiChiara as superintendent of the Phenix City Board Education finally has an explanation -- or at least the indication of one.

Four months before the seven-member board unanimously voted in a called meeting to buy out DiChiara's contract, he had written a document alleging "violations of the Alabama Governance Act perpetuated by certain members of my current board."

Through an open records request, the Ledger-Enquirer has obtained that document and others, all of which begin to answer the questions both sides have declined to discuss. A more detailed account will be published Sunday, after the Ledger-Enquirer has reviewed all the documents.

The July 1 letter never was sent to whom it was addressed, Alabama Superintendent of Education Tommy Bice, but it did send a message when DiChiara shared it with the board: Their relationship was broken.

DiChiara, who served Phenix City for 9½ years and was named the Alabama Superintendent of the Year two years ago, agreed not to send that letter when the board agreed to mediation conducted by the Alabama School Boards Association.

The topics were "Role and Responsibilities of the Board and Superintendent" and "Conflict Resolution." But after two sessions lasting more than two hours each this fall, they still couldn't settle their differences.

Negotiations to agree on terms of the buyout also have failed since the board's Nov. 26 vote. DiChiara has estimated the gap between what he and the board contend is fair and legal is "a couple hundred thousand dollars." Either way, buying out the 4½ years remaining on his contract is expected to cost the school system more than $750,000.

Board members have refused to publicly say why they sought DiChiara's exit, but they insist the move is best for the school system. DiChiara has said he doesn't know the reason because the board officially hasn't informed him and he doesn't want to speculate. Both sides also have cited a clause in the pending buyout agreement that prohibits disparaging each other.

After a 50-minute closed session during Thursday night's board meeting, board attorney Sydney Smith said she doesn't think the buyout will be finalized until the new year, but she still remained hopeful about an agreement. DiChiara, however, predicted the issue will be settled in court.

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