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Monday, September 18, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Rainier Beach principal paid $173,507 by district to resign

Seattle Times staff reporter

Marta Cano-Hinz, the controversial former principal of Rainier Beach High School, received a $173,507 severance package in exchange for her agreement to resign from the Seattle School District.

The unusually large settlement, which wasn't announced at the time of Cano-Hinz's departure in January, underlines Superintendent Joseph Olchefske's determination to remove what he considers to be problem principals.

It was the first time during Olchefske's administration that the district has negotiated a financial package in order to remove a principal. The superintendent said he agreed to the buyout because the district may not have had a strong enough case to unilaterally end Cano-Hinz's contract at the end of the 1999-2000 school year.

The size of the settlement has raised eyebrows both within the district and outside. "The highest settlement I'm aware of historically in this state is equivalent to one year of a person's salary," said Brian Barker, executive director of the Association of Washington School Principals.

Severance packages are uncommon for principals, who work under one-year contracts that do not have to be renewed if the school district can show cause. Like teachers, principals have tenure and can't be removed without cause.

It is often difficult, however, for school districts to demonstrate in appeal hearings that they have sufficient cause to terminate the contract of a principal or teacher.

"I certainly had come to the conclusion that I was unhappy with the way things were going at Rainier Beach," Olchefske said. "I did want to make a move and did want to make it quickly - more quickly than the employment process would have allowed.

"I wanted to move and move aggressively. If it cost some money to move that way, I was willing to pay something."

Rainier Beach has had a problem of low test scores, and Cano-Hinz was criticized for what some parents and teachers called an authoritarian style. Her failure to turn around low test scores and attract more students to the school contributed to the criticism.

Community unhappiness over Cano-Hinz's performance led to repeated demonstrations outside the school last year, and Rainier Beach has become the least popular high school in Seattle's school-choice process.

The severance agreement with Cano-Hinz, 53, will pay her $143,077 for lost earnings, an amount equal to 80 percent of the $89,423 salary she would have earned in each of the next two years. She also will receive $18,350 in health-related benefits and a $12,080 payment to her retirement account.

Barker, director of the principals association, declined to discuss the Cano-Hinz settlement. But he said most severance agreements he has seen have involved payments between $10,000 and $20,000 to boost retirement benefits. He estimated 10 to 15 principals statewide negotiate severance agreements each year.

Olchefske said he had offered severance packages to no other principals and was not aware of his predecessor, John Stanford, making such deals. Ellen Roe, who was on the School Board from 1975 to 1999, said she could recall only one other principal who may have left the district under a severance deal.

The agreement was obtained by The Seattle Times last week. It provides a fuller story of her departure than that given at the time by Olchefske, who said it was Cano-Hinz's choice to leave the job, or by Cano-Hinz, who said conflict with some parents and teachers led her to end her 28-year career in public education sooner than she had intended. She originally had hoped to serve another two years as principal before retiring.

Cano-Hinz said earlier this year she planned to devote more time to her business producing upscale teddy bears.

Olchefske, declaring his intention to raise the quality of Seattle's principal corps, informed four "low-performing principals" in May that their contracts would not be renewed. Three of the principals are working as teachers in other Seattle schools while hearing officers consider appeals of their demotions.

Cano-Hinz signed her severance agreement in January, saying she would "resign forever" from the district effective June 30. She left her job March 16, using accumulated sick leave.

The agreement acknowledged criticisms of her leadership, as well as her position that she was an effective leader. It said the two sides reached the deal "in order to resolve the dispute between the parties without the need for litigation and in mutual consideration."

Rainier Beach High School's new principal, Donna Marshall, a former assistant principal of Franklin High, has been well-received by students and teachers. She is known for her collaborative style.

Keith Ervin's phone message number is 206-464-2105. His e-mail address is kervin@seattletimes.com.

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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