Why is Dr. Joris Ray leaving Memphis-Shelby County Schools with $480K?

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — FOX13 is investigating the severance agreement between the Memphis-Shelby County Schools board and now former superintendent Dr. Joris Ray.

In accepting his resignation, the school board and their attorney cited section 14 of Ray’s employment contract. It deals with how either side can end that contract and what Ray is owed or not owed depending on how the separation happens.

SEE MORE: Dr. Joris Ray steps down as Memphis-Shelby County Schools superintendent

The school board only had to pay Dr. Ray 18-months’ salary, plus benefits, if it fired him without cause. But, they agreed to pay out that full amount even though he resigned.

“I refer to it as mutually agreed to sever ties and that is what we did,” said MSCS school board Chair Michelle McKissack.

Well-known Memphis attorney Alan Crone, of The Crone Law Firm PLC, according to language in the contract, said there was a negotiation between the parties.

FOX13 asked Crone to examine documents related to Ray’s employment.

“The contract doesn’t allow for the payment the way it’s been done,” he said.

SEE MORE: Read Dr. Joris Ray’s contract with the Shelby County Board of Education here

The school board and its attorney have said Dr. Ray is entitled to the money pursuant to his contract. In the severance agreement, the board “in no way admits” any wrongdoing and Dr. Ray “in no way admits” to wrongdoing as well.

The agreement said the district will pay Dr. Ray an hourly rate to help his replacement transition into office, bringing to a close a weeks-long investigation of Dr. Ray and potential violations of district policy.

“I think it is probably both sides’ desire to move on,” said Crone. “Details of it, [the] specific amount of severance … are not unusual.”

FOX13 wanted more clarification on how and why Dr. Ray will be leaving the school district with that severance package. So, FOX13 reached out to Memphis-Shelby County Schools for answers. Responses to FOX13′s questions from MSCS General Counsel and MSCS Board Chair Michelle McKissack are below.

  • Was Joris Ray’s departure from MSCS a Mutual Agreement or a Resignation?

Our legal team and Dr. Ray’s legal team developed a general release agreement that spells out the terms of the separation based on Section 14.A of the superintendent’s employment contract, mutual agreement of the parties.

-Kenneth Walker, MSCS General Counsel

  • Point to the specific clause in his contract which entitles him to 18 months of severance.

Section 14.D of the superintendent employment contract contains the terms of separation that provide the superintendent with severance. This section was used in reaching the general release agreement approved during last night’s meeting.

-Kenneth Walker, MSCS General Counsel

(Walker later clarified with the following response)

The general release agreement, which included the payout amount, involved negotiations between our attorneys and Dr. Ray’s attorney, as the board and Dr. Ray agreed that the matter was a distraction from the district’s core work. The final payout for a severance amount contemplated portions of 14.D.

-Kenneth Walker, MSCS General Counsel

  • How and when will he be paid? Will that be in a lump sum?

Yes, it will be paid out in a lump sum.

-Kenneth Walker, MSCS General Counsel

  • What other compensation will Ray receive beyond the announced $480,000.

In alignment with any employment separation from MSCS, he will receive the balance for unused vacation days. In addition, he will receive the value of unused sick days accrued during his tenure as superintendent and COBRA insurance payments for 12 months.

  • Is his severance money coming from a special legal fund or general operating expenses?

Please contact MSCS and utilize their usual process for budget inquiries, as this would be a question for MSCS’ CFO.

  • Will any other investigations into other district employees happen?

The board oversees one employee, the superintendent. Based on our role, we feel confident that last night’s outcome is in the best interest of the students, families and staff that we represent.

If a claim or allegation faces any other current employee, the district would be responsible for looking into it.

-Michelle McKissack, MSCS Board Chair