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A Super Deal (Part 1): Decatur School Board gave superintendent money for down payment on a house

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A Super Deal (Part 1): Decatur School Board gave superintendent money for down payment on a house

In 2016, the School Board gave Superintendent David Dude money to buy a home. Here's a file photo of the people serving on the School Board at the time the payment was approved. City Schools of Decatur Board of Education: (left to right) Tasha White, Vice Chair Garrett Goebel, Lewis Jones, Chair Annie Caiola, Superintendent Dr. David Dude, and Bernadette Seals. Source: City Schools of Decatur
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This story has been updated to correct typos and for clarity. 

About this series: Decaturish.com dug deeper into the allegations contained in a lawsuit filed against City Schools of Decatur by the district’s former human resources director. The lawsuit alleges that Superintendent David Dude took more vacations than his contract allowed and that the board advanced him money to buy a home. Our investigation sheds new light on those claims and reveals new details about his most recent contract. This is the first part of a three-part series about our findings.

Decatur, GA — Decatur’s lack of affordable housing has been something the community has debated and tried to address for years.

It was a challenge for Decatur’s new superintendent when the board hired him in 2015. He had trouble finding a place to live.

Dude’s housing woes are referenced in federal lawsuit filed against the district by its former human resources director. Among other allegations, the lawsuit alleges Dude purchased a new home using salary advanced to him by the School Board.

Records obtained by Decaturish provide more details about this claim and show that the School Board in 2016 did give Dude money for a down payment on his home by allowing him to cash out vacation days. The payment was not approved in a public School Board meeting, Dude confirmed.

Dude says it didn’t have to be approved in a public meeting.

When Superintendent Dude arrived from Iowa, he struggled to find a home in the city that he could afford with his then-$179,000 salary. At one point the School Board even considered leasing him one of two homes owned by the district or giving him a stipend on top of the $1,500 stipend he already was receiving.  According to his original contract, that $1,500 could be used for housing if Dude resided in the city of Decatur. That wasn’t the only relocation help the board offered Dude. His original contract allowed for a $15,000 moving expense reimbursement. The $1,500 stipend was removed when his contract was renewed in 2017.

Still, Dude struggled to find a place to live.

The School Board in 2016 came up with an alternative solution to Dude’s housing woes, one that wasn’t publicly known at the time. The board in July 2016 gave him $21,608 for a down payment on his home. The board did this by allowing Dude to cash out 30 vacation days. The School Board did not vote on this payment during a public meeting.

“My cash out for vacation days aren’t subject a public vote. It’s part of my contract,” Dude said. .

A lawsuit filed by the school district’s former human resources director, David Adams, mentions the money the district gave Dude to buy a home.

Adams filed his federal lawsuit against the district this year. Adams alleges that Dude’s public statement about his departure from the district hampered his ability to find work and breached a non-disparagement clause of his severance agreement with the district. It alleges that Dude took more vacation time than his contract allowed and that the School Board gave him a salary advance to purchase a home. The lawsuit says that Susan Hurst, the district’s former finance director, in 2018 told Adams about the alleged salary advance. The lawsuit alleges Dude pushed Hurst and Adams out of the district after they reported the allegations to the school district’s attorney. Hurst and Adams both resigned in December 2019. At the time, school district officials called the timing of the resignations a coincidence.

After Adams filed his lawsuit, Decaturish filed a records request to learn more about the allegations. The records confirm the School Board gave Dude money for a down payment on his home. The records also provide additional details about how that payment occurred.

After discussing Dude’s housing challenges publicly, the School Board quietly came up with another solution: allowing the new superintendent to cash out 30 vacation days.

The matter appears to have been hashed out on the morning of July 14, 2016.

Annie Caiola, who was Board Chair at the time but no longer serves on the School Board, sent Dude an email with “housing” as the subject line. The email doesn’t make clear what prompted her to send it. Caiola told Dude in the email, “I have no problem with this as long as the vacation days have been earned and it’s legal, both of which I’m sure are the case.”

Caiola and the vice chair at the time, former School Board member Garrett Goebel, appear to have consulted with their legal counsel. The school district is represented by Wilson Morton & Downs. Emails from the law firm were redacted in the records the school district provided to Decaturish.

The emails from Caiola make it clear she and Goebel were aware this money was being used for a down payment on Dude’s home.

“I tend to agree that sick days would need to be prorated,” Caiola wrote to Dude in one email. “Can we figure out what that number is and can you let us know if that is still doable for your down payment?”

She added, “I would be inclined to make a strong recommendation to other board members that we authorize this one-time payment.”

Later that morning, Dude sent an email to Hurst, who was finance director at the time.

“I have requested Annie [Caiola] provide written authorization to you regarding paying out my unused, earned vacation days,” Dude wrote. “Please move forward with the preparations to issue a check for 30 days vacation leave so this can be completed quickly once you receive said authorization. Note that 20 of those days will be from Fiscal Year 2016 (due to the pro-ration of earned leave) and 10 will be from Fiscal Year 2017.”

“Will do,” Hurst replied.

And that appeared to be the end of the discussion.

The next day, Goebel emailed Dude and the entire board and said, “David, I’m glad to hear you have found a home. I hope we’ll be able to harness what you experienced and learned when the appropriate time comes for the district to look at workforce housing.”

Goebel and Caiola both declined to comment when contacted by Decaturish.

Current School Board Chair Tasha White, who was on the board at the time, vaguely remembers the board giving Dude money for a down payment for a house but doesn’t recall many of the details.

“I’d have to go back and check,” White said. “I do vaguely remember talking about an advance based on the 30 days of vacation. I don’t remember what became of that.”

Dude said the $21,608 payment for his 30 vacation days was in line with what was in his contract at the time.

“When I started here and my housing challenges were well known,” he said. “In July of 2016, a house became available that met our family’s needs … They suggested I cash out my vacation leave for a down payment. So, I cashed out 30 vacation days at that time. It was not unearned. I earn my vacation leave at the start of each contract year.”

That’s true, now. In 2017, the district changed his contract to say “all annual vacation days shall be deemed fully earned at the beginning of the contract year.”

But the 2015 contract didn’t specify that. It’s the same contract that the board would’ve consulted in July 2016 when it authorized paying Dude for 30 vacation days.

Here’s the provision of his 2015 contract regarding his vacation days:

“Superintendent shall earn thirty (30) days of paid vacation for the 2015-2016 school year on a pro rata basis; thirty-five (35) days of paid vacation for the 2016-2017 school year; and forty (40) days of paid vacation for the 2017-2018 school year, and shall be allowed to accumulate and carry forward to the next school year up to sixty (60) vacation days for so long as this Agreement is in effect. Any unused vacation days in excess of the sixty (60) days that may be carried forward shall be paid out to Superintendent at the prevailing daily rate in effect at the time it is paid out.”

In 2017, the school district added “Superintendent shall be entitled to cash out up to 30 days of vacation pay each contract year” to Dude’s contract.

During a Feb. 22 interview, Dude was told that his 2015 contract contained different language about his vacation days. He referred questions about that to the School Board.

“My contract is with the board and the board conferred with their attorney as to whether or not I could cash out those vacation days and they all agreed I could, so I don’t know what else to tell you about that,” Dude said.

When asked why he needed money for a down payment on a home when he was offered $15,000 for moving expenses and $1,500 a month he could use on housing, Dude didn’t go into details.

“I’m not going to get into my personal finances,” he said. “I think that’s completely inappropriate, but the fact is I didn’t have money for a down payment.”

Correction: This story has been updated to make it clear that David Dude was allowed to cash out 30 vacation days. The original version of this story said “30 vacation hours” in some instances. That was an editing error that has been corrected.

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