The fact that Paul Kasunich will be able to draw severance pay and benefits for a year in exchange for his resignation as superintendent of the Trinity Area School District is enough to provoke serious apoplexy among parents, students, teachers and taxpayers.
This is the same Paul Kasunich who embarrassed himself and the district when he was arrested and charged with driving under the influence in February. Most of us could not hope to grab such a plush deal if we were booted from our jobs for similarly egregious misbehavior.
But this is almost certainly the best option available to the district. It’s not palatable, but it’s the least painful.
Whatever other merits he may have possessed as an administrator, Kasunich could no longer effectively lead the district after being arrested for drunken driving in the small hours of Feb. 2 in Ohio Township, Allegheny County. From all indications, he had imbibed more than the “couple of drinks” he owned up to after he was pulled over; the officer who arrested Kasunich reported that the superintendent’s vehicle was swerving on the road, almost hitting the officer’s own car, and that when he was alongside the road, Kasunich had bloodshot eyes, smelled of alcohol and nearly tumbled over a couple of times. His blood-alcohol content turned out to be more than twice the legal limit.
He wasn’t just tipsy. He was drunk. Kasunich should have had a front-row seat at one of those mock drunken driving demonstrations that routinely come to Trinity, and other area high schools, during prom and graduation season.
Kasunich was suspended with pay immediately after the incident and, just a few weeks ago, he entered the state’s Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition Program for first-time offenders, making it likely the charge will be expunged from his record once a yearlong probationary period is completed. The legal ramifications may not be long-lasting for Kasunich, but his ability to set a positive example for students and all the other employees in the school district had been fatally compromised.
Making matters worse, this was the second high-profile encounter Kasunich had with police during his four-year tenure at Trinity – in 2010, he was charged with simple assault following a fight with a girlfriend. The charges were later dropped, though Kasunich was briefly suspended with pay.
No doubt many would have preferred to see the Trinity school board fire Kasunich outright, without a penny of additional pay or perks. The district’s bond rating was recently lowered by Moody’s Investors Service, citing increased expenditures and the limited number of tools the district has to raise money. It finished the 2012-13 school year with a $3 million deficit. The thought of a former employee receiving lavish compensation to cool his heels for a year carries a particularly bitter sting in this context.
But if the district had cut off Kasunich like a gangrenous limb, it would have probably set the stage for a protracted legal battle.
It would have sapped the district’s time and limited resources. The district already spent $36,818 employing a Pittsburgh law firm to deal specifically with Kasunich’s arrest and his employment status. The solution the board approved last Wednesday was the best way to make the superintendent get lost.
It’s time for Trinity – and Kasunich – to move on.