The High Island ISD school board will continue to pay former Superintendent D’Ann Vonderau’s $106,000 annual salary through the end of January 2018 under terms of a severance agreement hammered out between her attorney and the district.
Vonderau had admitted to leaving a loaded handgun in a district vehicle used to transport students, one of whom found the weapon while en route to a sporting event.
Her agreement with the district called for her to resign as superintendent effective July 17. She will remain a district employee, however, as “a special assistant to the acting or interim superintendent … on an as-needed basis,” with full benefits and salary through Jan. 31.
As part of her severance agreement, the school district provided Vonderau, who will not have an office on campus, with a letter of recommendation.
High Island Principal Amanda Jackson had been serving as principal and acting superintendent since May 19 — when Vonderau was placed on administrative leave — until late June when the school board appointed veteran educator Travis Grubbs acting superintendent.
Jackson remains with the district as student counselor and curriculum director.
“We’re just happy to have this behind us and have someone new at the helm,” school board President Bennie Barrow said Tuesday.
Grubbs, who most recently was principal in the Comstock ISD, was hired as High Island’s principal on June 19, and the board named him acting superintendent later that month.
The event that led to Vonderau’s dismissal occurred May 1, when a student athlete found a loaded .380-caliber handgun in the district-owned Chevrolet Suburban. The school board on May 19 placed her on administrative leave.
At the school board meeting that night, Vonderau took responsibility for leaving the weapon in the SUV, which, among other things, is used to carry students to and from regional sporting events and other school-related activities.
“On May 1, 2017, I traveled to West Hardin ISD in Saratoga, Texas, on school district business in a district vehicle with other district employees,” Vonderau said, reading from a statement. “Once we arrived, I observed that the school district does not allow concealed handguns on its campuses. I then left the handgun in the locked district vehicle to attend the meeting.”
Vonderau said in her statement that when she returned to High Island ISD, she forgot to retrieve the weapon.
“When the vehicle was next used, a High Island ISD student athlete discovered the handgun in the vehicle while traveling for a sports competition,” Vonderau said.
In a subsequent interview, she acknowledged that the handgun was loaded when the student found it. He then turned it over to a school official.
“We just feel thankful and grateful that no one got hurt,” Barrow said.
Vonderau, who had served as High Island ISD’s superintendent since 2010, was authorized to carry the weapon under a Texas statute known as the Guardian Plan, which allows licensed and certified school district employees to carry concealed weapons on campus as a precautionary measure.
The agreement between Vonderau and the district was the second high-profile, high-dollar severance accord reached in Galveston County in as many months.
The Dickinson City Council in late June reached an agreement with former City Administrator Julie Robinson on a severance package finalizing her departure after a decade in that city’s top appointed post.
Robinson received a lump sum of $193,992.
Moreover, League City in January agreed to a severance package with former City Manager Mark Rohr that paid him more than $158,000.
Now, the High Island administration and faculty are looking beyond the gun incident.
“We’re moving forward as the new school year approaches,” Grubbs said of the fall semester, which begins Aug. 28. “Our entire focus is on our students and their development.”