Archive for Saturday, March 10, 2001

Bishop Seabury, headmaster negotiate severance deal

March 10, 2001


The reason Kris Pueschel's career as headmaster of Bishop Seabury Academy formally ended Friday depends upon which faction of the school community is speaking.

Pueschel's critics contend his inflexible personality and excessive contract demands forced the board of trustees to end his three-year run as chief academic officer of the Episcopal school east of Lawrence.

But Pueschel's supporters assert he was the victim of large egos on the board of trustees and a smoke-and-mirrors campaign to blame him for the school's budget woes.

On Friday, after more than a month of negotiations by lawyers on both sides, the board and Pueschel signed a severance agreement.

Despite fractured opinion about reasons leading to Pueschel's departure, it's generally acknowledged that he played a significant role in getting the private school off on the right foot.

"He's obviously very important to the founding of the school," said Todd Sutherland, chairman of the board of trustees and a key player in the drive to remove Pueschel.

Pueschel was released less than one year after he helped Bishop Seabury earn national accreditation and less than one year after he was offered a two-year contract extension by the board.

Pueschel and his wife, Barbara, who was fired as the school's business manager, were ordered off Bishop Seabury's campus in early February by trustees Stephen Hill and Sutherland.

Hill and Sutherland told parents that Pueschel had sought a five-year commitment from the board that could have cost the school $1 million a figure discounted by some as artificially inflated to make it appear Pueschel's request could bankrupt the school.

The settlement placed the Pueschels on a "leave of absence." Both will receive severance pay through June based on Kris Pueschel's salary of $76,000 and Barbara Pueschel's salary of $28,000.

"We feel privileged to have been part of something bigger than ourselves," Kris Pueschel said. "That has made us better people."

He couldn't hide frustration about circumstances surrounding his ouster. The deal apparently prohibits Pueschel from returning to Bishop Seabury to bid farewell to the 95 junior high school and high school students on campus.

"I'm not necessarily talking about this contract or anyone, but whenever injustice touches our lives, it automatically defines us. Our character is formed by how we respond to that," Pueschel said.

Upheaval at Bishop Seabury raised questions about the school's viability, but the school's leadership intends to focus on recruiting students and raising $5 million for construction of a new campus in Lawrence possibly near Hallmark Cards.

"I think that looking forward will kind of get us a new start on the whole effort," Sutherland said.

He said a new headmaster could be hired by April. The interim headmaster is Elisabeth Lee, the academy's dean under Pueschel.

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