USD 475 will keep paying former Junction City High principal through June

·4 min read

May 18—Former Junction City High School Principal Melissa Sharp is still getting paid at her annual rate of $126,000 through the end of next month, even though she's been off the job since last October. That means she'll be paid about $84,000 to not work, by the time she is officially done.

Records recently released to the Junction City Union show that Sharp's official termination date as the principal is set for June 30, 2021. She was removed from that job after an Oct. 20 incident in which a student claimed that she'd been ordered to remove a hijab, which is a head-covering garment worn by Muslim women. That led to student protests, and eventually a vote Nov. 2 by the Geary County school board to suspend her with pay.

Supt. Reginald Eggleston told the Union after that meeting that the suspension would be for the rest of the school year. But he also told the newspaper at an April 20 meeting that Sharp had resigned "a few months back." That was when the board voted to officially appoint Sharp's permanent successor, Merrier Jackson.

Records released to the Union Monday under the state's open-records laws indicate that Sharp's actual termination date will be June 30, 2021. The district could not provide the amount that she will be paid during her suspension, since it has not concluded yet, according to spokeswoman Lindley Lund.

But an estimate can be calculated based on her rate of pay and the time of the suspension.

Sharp's salary in 2020 was $126,699, and Lund confirmed that the rate had not changed. Serving an 8-month paid suspension from November through June would mean the pay during the suspension would amount to approximately $84,508.

Jackson became the interim principal at JCHS on Oct. 26, according to other public records obtained by The Union. That was a week before the school board voted to suspend Sharp indefinitely with pay, saying in an announcement after the vote that "an acting principal will be appointed."

Jackson moved to Junction City from Alabama, where she had been a school administrator, including a 14-year stint as a principal, Eggleston said. He said the district recruited her to come here with the title "Director of Secondary Education," a new position.

But records released to The Union last week showed that she never actually held that position. Instead, she was immediately made the acting principal on Oct. 26, her hire date. Eggleston said he made the move because Sharp was moved out pending an investigation of the hijab incident.

"When the events transpired at the high school concerning Ms. Sharp, we then just placed her (at JCHS)," Eggleston said. "She never came here with the intent of being the principal of the high school or the acting (principal). It was just the turn of events that transpired when she arrived."

Jackson was paid $45,014.67 for her work from that date until April 9, 2021. Officials said this is the amount Jackson would have been paid for her work as director. The board voted on April 20 to make her the permanent replacement for Sharp, saying they had interviewed three finalists for the job. Jackson is to be paid $28,130.63 for the two-and-a-half months remaining in the fiscal year that ends June 30. Her starting date as the permanent replacement was back-dated to April 12, district records show.

Assuming nothing else changes, that means the school district will have paid the two women $157,652 to work as the high school principal from November through June. That's the equivalent of an annual salary of $236,478.

The board approved Jackson joining the district in September as part of the district's teaching and learning department, though she wouldn't join the district until October. A district spokeswoman said USD 475 still plans to hire a secondary education director now that Jackson is officially Junction City High's principal.

Eggleston said he knew of Jackson's experience as a principal — she had been a building principal for about 14 years. He said it made sense to him to have Jackson fill in until an interim principal could be appointed by the board.

"She was going to be a director here, that's why we brought her here," Eggleston said. "I do appreciate her flexibility and attitude and willingness to kind of pivot on a dime because that was definitely not what she initially had in mind. But I think after she got there, she just fell in love with the kids."

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