Absent Milton superintendent getting pay, severance in deal
Click here to read a pdf of the investigation documents.
MILTON Superintendent Mike Garrow said the last several weeks have been a “nightmare” for him and his family, even if some details explaining why just emerged publicly Friday.
Garrow is receiving full pay while on leave for the rest of the school year, but Garrow has agreed to resign June 30, according to Milton School District records obtained by The Gazette.
In a resignation agreement the board supplied to The Gazette through an open records request, the district disclosed it is paying Garrow for his leave plus $35,000 in severance pay.
The agreement is dated Nov. 12. Garrow earns $122,000 a year, according to district records.
The resignation comes on the heels of a board investigation into complaints about Garrow’s conduct, which officials said led to Garrow being put on leave Oct. 12. The board later granted Garrow paid leave through June 30.
The Milton School District on Friday turned over documents detailing an investigation into complaints that Garrow had “inappropriately” fraternized with district staff during social gatherings and that in June he had used a school district computer to access a “possibly inappropriate” picture of a woman whom Garrow says he knows.
In a rebuttal Garrow filed with open records materials released Friday, Garrow wrote that he had used a district computer to pull up a Facebook photo of female friend he had suggested a staff member should date.
He said he wanted to show some other staff members a photo of that friend, and at the time he had made remarks that the woman was intelligent and pretty, and other staff viewing the photo agreed.
School was not in session at the time, Garrow wrote.
The board’s investigator found that the photo was “possibly inappropriate” and that it “certainly caused discomfort to the staff members to whom it was shown,” according to records.
A school district policy prevents anyone from using district computers to access or share material that is “profane or obscene.”
Garrow said the woman in the photo he showed staff was clothed, and he doesn’t believe the photo was in any way inappropriate.
The investigator wrote that during questioning in late October, Garrow said the woman in the photo “might have been wearing a bikini,” while staff who saw the photo reported the woman might have been unclothed.
Garrow said he doesn’t think anyone investigating his conduct ever saw a copy of the photo, and the investigation report said the photo was no longer on the district’s computer system.
Garrow at one point said he offered to show the board and the board’s human resources committee the photo, but he said board members declined to look at it.
“They said, ‘It’s no longer relevant,’” he said.
Board member Bob Cullen, who is not on the human resources committee, said he never saw the photo.
It’s unclear if other members of the board saw the photo during the course of the investigation. Other board members did not immediately respond to phone messages from The Gazette on Friday seeking comment.
The investigator also looked into complaints that Garrow had fraternized “inappropriately” during social gatherings, but the report said the complaints were unfounded.
In his rebuttal, Garrow sought to clear the air about his conduct in public. He wrote that he had admitted he was a member of a tavern volleyball league and indicated that he had consumed alcohol in public after games.
Garrow called that activity “commonplace” and said other city officials and local business stakeholders and teachers were routinely involved in the activity.
Garrow wrote that he was not “suspended” for the rest of the year, and argued that he was never on leave due to “misconduct.”
“The board and I reached a mutual agreement and are now living by the terms of that agreement,” Garrow wrote.
The board has not indicated whether it found Garrow guilty of misconduct or whether the investigation’s findings had anything to do with Garrow’s resignation.
The district wrote in a news release Friday that after the investigation, the board had offered Garrow a chance to continue to work in the district under a “formal set of performance expectations” drafted by the board, but Garrow indicated he wasn’t interested in working under the expectations.
The board has not made the improvement plan public, despite a request Friday by The Gazette to do so.
The district wrote that when Garrow declined to work under the board’s new expectations, “it became clear to the board that Dr. Garrow’s style and approach were not consistent with the district’s mission.”
That’s when the board began negotiating a separation agreement to end Garrow’s employment with the district “much earlier” than June 2014, when Garrow’s two-year contract was set to expire, the district wrote.
Cullen, on the other hand, said Garrow had shot down an offer by the board to return to work in the district before the board had even firmed up the terms of Garrow’s improvement plan.
“It never got that far, because he didn’t feel he could return” after the investigation, Cullen said.
Garrow said that heavy media coverage and rumors about him would have made it impossible for him to return to work in the district.
Garrow said the experience has been “a personal nightmare” for him and his family, and the fallout from it has made him feel like a “second-class citizen.”
“Read the blog entries. Read what’s in the newspapers. Think about the process,” Garrow told The Gazette in an interview Friday at his home.
At the time Garrow had struck an apparent agreement with the board in November to get paid leave for the rest of the school year, The Gazette had run one news story on Garrow’s leave.
The story, which ran Oct. 30, included no details about the board’s investigating Garrow’s conduct. It contained quotes from Garrow from a mid-October phone interview with The Gazette.
At that time, Garrow said he was using the leave to deal with his father’s death, and he told The Gazette then that he was unaware of any other possible reason for his leave.
Performance reviews for Garrow after his first year in the district in 2011-12 showed mostly favorable comments by the board, and the board earlier in 2012 had extended Garrow’s contract another two years.
A few of Garrow’s early policy changes, including late-start days for staff in-services, received negative responses from parents.
Garrow said Friday he had “no indication” the board had concerns about his conduct in the district and at social gatherings until the board notified him in writing that he was being placed on leave pending an investigation.
Garrow acknowledged Friday it was “not a great choice” to show staff a Facebook photo during work hours, but he wrote that he “strongly disagrees” that his conduct required a “full-blown” investigation before anyone gave him details about the complaint.
Garrow stopped short of saying the board handled the complaint or the investigation improperly.
“If I were a principal and this were a staff member, I would follow what board policy is. I’m not gonna judge how they conducted it. That’s not for me to do,” Garrow told The Gazette.
A sign outside Garrow’s home between Milton and Janesville shows his home is for sale. Garrow said he listed the house last week.
Garrow indicated he has a “supportive and understanding” family, and he said he plans to continue to pursue work in education.
“I do plan to continue to help other students and other staff at other districts to help others be better, and keep learning myself,” Garrow told The Gazette.
The district has appointed longtime Milton schools Principal Theresa Rusch to fill in as superintendent. The district intends to begin searching for a new superintendent soon, officials said.