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Former KC superintendent rewrote contracts before departure

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Former Kansas City Schools Superintendent John Covington rewrote his top administrators' contracts to sweeten their severance before resigning and taking three of them with him to lead a new agency overseeing Michigan's poorest-performing schools, according to correspondence obtained The Kansas City Star.

The district has since voided the revised contracts and denied payouts to the three administrators, who oversaw the district's finances, academics and curriculum, according to emails and letters obtained by the newspaper through an open records request (http://bit.ly/y7uXAj).

Reached by phone in Michigan, Covington said he didn't understand why the contracts he revised in April were nullified. He insisted the changes had nothing to do with any thoughts he had of potentially leaving the district.

"I could not offer them the salaries they might get somewhere else," Covington said, "but I could do something to make them comparable somewhat."

Covington resigned abruptly in August, and the state's Board of Education voted the following month to strip the Kansas City School District of its accreditation, effective Jan. 1. Although Covington had helped put the district on firmer financial footing during his two-year tenure through an aggressive school-closure effort, test scores remained stubbornly low.

With lawmakers talking about breaking up the district or speeding up the timeline for a state takeover, the three Kansas City administrators followed Covington to Michigan in November.

One contract change Covington made was to pay departing cabinet members 100 percent of their accrued sick days instead of the 3 percent that had been the district's practice. Second was to provide up to a year's worth of salary and benefits — compared to the district's standard severance of 120 days — if any cabinet members were fired or demoted if Covington were to leave.

Records The Star obtained show the three administers sought the additional sick leave, which would have totaled $49,454, but didn't formally request the additional pay and benefits.

"That," Kansas City school board President Airick Leonard West said of the changes, "would be an absurd retention strategy."

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