21 Aug 2014
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Former School Chief Says She's Owed $4,200

School board votes to fight the claim made by Judith Palmer, says paying her would set a bad precedent.

Former School Chief Says She's Owed $4,200

Oxford's former superintendent of schools says she is owed $4,200 from the school system and has filed a complaint with a state agency in an attempt to secure that amount.

The Board of Education, however, says financial books at its business office indicate the district does not owe any money to Judith Palmer, who left this summer amid a controversy over her contract and took a job as head of schools in Region 7 in Winsted.

After a lengthy discussion about the payment in question Tuesday night, the board voted 5-3 to ask its attorney, Michael P. McKeon, to fight it, even though McKeon said it would be more expensive to do so. He said he's already invested about $1,700 to $1,800 worth of billable time into the case, and that fighting it could cost about $20,000.

Paying Palmer would only cost $4,200.17, which is what she was shorted in her final paycheck, but the board says paying her would set a bad precedent and could set the board up for future claims of short-changed checks.

The board also vehemently denies that it owes Palmer any money.

Board members said two separate school business managers - former interim Business Manager Arthur Poole and current Business Manager Rosemary Hanson - reviewed the figures and determined they had paid Palmer the correct amount.

Still, Palmer and her attorney disagree. They are vowing to fight the claim through the state's Labor Board.

McKeon said Palmer's attorney, whose name could not be verified as of Wednesday, would not provide a copy of the complaint to the school district and that the district has still not seen the complaint. McKeon said in his more than 20 years as an attorney, he has never heard of a superintendent or another school administrator filing such a claim.

School board members are offended by Palmer's insistence that she is owed money.

Rose McKinnon, the board's chairman and a Republican, and John Lavin said paying her would set a bad precedent.

"I'm not a big fan of anyone intimidating me, this board or this town," said Lavin, a Republican. "I would wholeheartedly reject paying her a dollar."

Michael Macchio, also a Republican, called the Labor Department agent's tactics intimidation and bullying.

"I don't like that one bit," he said.

It wasn't just Republicans who disagreed with paying Palmer; Democrat Ted Oczkowski joined the GOP in voting to fight the complaint. Oczkowski said another person who doesn't believe he or she is being paid enough might decide to make a similar complaint if the board doesn't take a hard stance.

McKinnon, Lavin, Macchio, Oczkowski and William J. Neary, a Republican, voted to fight the claim. Democrats Paula Guillet, Kevin Reid and Lisa Hellauer voted against it, saying they wanted to try to come to a compromise with Palmer, who was paid $133,444 a year in base salary in Oxford. She was also paid an annual tax-sheltered annuity of $6,722 on top of health insurance benefits. Her total annual compensation from the school district was $170,222.

Palmer could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. Oxford Patch left a message on her work phone at 12:30 p.m. 

Correction: This story has been corrected from its original version because the subject to whom school board member Michael Macchio was referring in a comment was misstated. Macchio's comment about how he believes tactics amounted to intimidation and bullying was in reference to an agent for the Labor Department. It has been changed in the story. We regret the error.

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