Blairsville High School sign

Figures provided by the Blairsville-Saltsburg School District after the filing of a right-to-know request estimate the total cost of a lawsuit filed by former superintendent Dr. Tammy Whitfield at more than $354,000.

The lawsuit was settled in November.

Whitfield was suspended with pay Nov. 1, 2016, and was subsequently suspended without pay Dec. 7, 2016, on a vote of 5-4, with no reason disclosed by the school board during that time.

After her suspension, she filed a lawsuit against the school district and the five board members who voted in favor of suspending her — Beverly Caranese, Holly Hall, Linda Brown, Marlene Joyce and Michael Bartolini — citing First Amendment retaliation and breach of contract and alleging the board violated a whistleblower law.

Whitfield had sought to be reinstated to her position, along with lost wages and interest; compensation for pain, suffering, emotional distress and humiliation; and attorney and legal fees and lost benefits.

A summary of costs provided by the district show total employer and settlement costs at $281,661.96 and total legal costs of $72,773.49, for a grand total of $354,435.45.

Employer and settlement costs totaling $281,661.96 were listed as follows:

• Wages through March 31, 2018: $190,732.59

• Retirement (net of state share): $23,428.07

• FICA/Medicare (net of state share) $5,715.23

• Other employer taxes: $1,583.09

• Settlement amount: $25,000

• Monies in lieu of life insurance: $1,449

• All health costs: $14,948.87 from January 2017 to November 2017; $5,663.80 from December 2017 to March 2018; and $13,141.31 from July 2018 to December 2018.

Legal costs totaling $72,773.49 were broken down as follows:

• Court reporter for Oct. 19, 2017: $200

• Attorney fees related to the superintendent since 2014: Dodaro, Matta and Cambest P.C., $28,600; Weiss Brandstetter, Webster, $12,261.11; George Gobel, $2,992.50; and Anthony Sanchez, $23,729.50

• Advertising for meetings: $1,682.32

• Cost of mediation: $3,308.06

The summary of costs related to the lawsuit was provided by district solicitor Jack Cambest.

The board in December touted settling the lawsuit as a cost-saving initiative, and included in the information sent this week was a breakdown of how much money district officials say they saved by settling the lawsuit.

Included in the “cost avoidance” document are figures for money the district says it saved for both Whitfield and her administrative assistant, who was furloughed as unnecessary due to Whitfield’s absence, Cambest said.

The figures represent the time period of April 1, 2018, to April 7, 2020.

Regarding Whitfield, the district says there is a cost avoidance of $405,592.43, which includes her salary with a 3 percent raise, “cashing out” of vacation time, PSERs contributions, FICA & Medicare, Workers’ Compensation tax and health care.

The total for the administrative assistant, for the same categories, is $171,949.65.

The board previously released a statement on the savings.

“As a result of actions being taken by the board of school directors, the board believes that the settlement of the termination proceedings involving Dr. Whitfield will result in an approximate savings of $500,000 on the remainder of Dr. Whitfield’s contract alone and an estimated $100,000 in legal fees for both the 1080 hearing and federal lawsuit, which far outweigh the cost of termination of Whitfield and future liabilities to the district both educationally and economically,” it said.

Margaret Weaver has served as a Gazette staff writer since 2006. She covers Clymer Borough, the Blairsville-Saltsburg School District and Blairsville court, and also works in the areas of layout, design and editing.