During a special meeting Sept. 13, the Hamilton Southeastern Schools Board of Trustees voted unanimously to accept the resignation of HSE Superintendent Yvonne Stokes, as well as a separation agreement negotiated by the district and Stokes’ legal counsel.
The board also unanimously voted to appoint Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Matt Kegley as the interim superintendent.
The board scheduled the special meeting on Sept 11, but details of what was to be discussed were not released until late afternoon Sept. 12. A summary of the separation agreement wasn’t posted until just before the 7 a.m. special meeting.
According to the summary, Stokes’ resignation is effective Sept. 13. She will be paid her full salary for the final year of her contract, including an annuity and unused sick leave and vacation time. Stokes also will continue to receive health insurance benefits through the district through 2024, unless she begins another job in that time.
Stokes was hired as the HSE superintendent in 2021, and was the district’s first Black superintendent. When she began in 2021, her contract included up to $187,500 annually in base pay and stipends.
The school board’s legal counsel, Chris Geisel, told the board that he was contacted by Stokes’ attorney two weeks prior to the meeting to negotiate a separation agreement. In addition to the financial considerations in the agreement, he said both sides have agreed to waive all legal claims against each other, and to non-disparagement clauses, which means they won’t speak poorly of each other.
He added that the actions of the board this week regarding the special meeting were part of that agreement.
“Every action that we’ve taken or not taken has been done in strict conformity with the agreement that we reached that’s before you here this morning,” he said.
Geisel was responding to earlier public comment that focused on the lack of public information leading up to the special meeting. Three people spoke, and all were critical of the board.
Among them was Abby Taylor, Hamilton Southeastern Schools Education Association president. She said teachers are frustrated by the board’s actions leading up to the special meeting.
“An unexpected meeting with no context or agenda was announced with an unusual start time, preventing many of our community from attending — especially teachers who were directly impacted by this time frame — resulting in a series of rumors and speculations and contributed to the continued distrust in our board members, which impacts all teachers, students and community members alike,” she said. “It festers in the court of public opinion and does a massive disservice to teachers who are looking right now for stability in central office and in our Board of Trustees during a desperately needed referendum.”
In November, Fishers voters will decide whether to approve a new tax referendum rate of .1995 cents per $100 assessed value, providing school funding of an estimated $24 million. The current tax levy, approved by voters in 2016, expires at the end of the year. Through the 2016 referendum, property owners have paid .2275 cents per $100 assessed value.
In a statement released by HSE just after the meeting, Stokes said she is grateful to the community for her time in the position.
“The opportunity to serve as superintendent was one I never took lightly,” she stated. “As this shift in leadership commences, I am committed to supporting the district and feel confident that our staff, students and families will be in capable hands. The future is bright for HSE.”
While the vote to approve Stokes’ resignation was unanimous, two board members — Sarah Parks Reese and Sarah Donsbach — explained that their votes were in support of Stokes’ wishes rather than a show of support for the process.
The next HSE school board meeting is 7 p.m. Sept. 20.