Wellesley’s former school business manager, who was fired in March and is now suing the superintendent and chair of the school committee, is eligible for nearly $17,000 in unemployment benefits from the town, according to the town’s finance director.
“I expect that she will be able to collect up to 26 weeks of unemployment,” said Finance Director Sheryl Strother.
Strother said that Berdell is eligible for $653 per week for up to 26 weeks, for a total of $16,978. It will be paid by the town, she said.
"We are self-insured," Strother said. The town does not pay a percentage of its payroll into the state unemployment system, but instead covers unemployment claims on its own.
According to the Department of Unemployment Assistance website, unemployment benefits usually total about 50 percent of a person’s average weekly wages, with a cap of $653 a week.
Berdell’s salary for the 2011-2012 school year was $138,211, according to the superintendent’s office.
If Berdell finds employment, Strother said, the town will no longer have to pay her unemployment benefits.
Berdell’s tenure as business manager began to unravel last spring, when it was discovered that the business department had failed to collect about $169,000 in school lunch debt.
The discovery triggered an audit, which was released in September of last year and showed a business office operating with few written protocols and little outside oversight. No misappropriation was uncovered.
As the district scrambled to collect the funds, it was battered by intense public criticism over its handling of the situation.
Superintendent Bella Wong resigned in November, effective at the end of the school year, and less than two weeks later, Berdell was placed on voluntary paid administrative leave until her termination in March.
Between July 1, 2011, and March 13 of this year, when Berdell was fired, she collected $183,364 from the town of Wellesley. That amount includes more than $80,000 in accrued vacation pay that Berdell had accumulated over 26 years of employment with the town.
The town has no reason to protest Berdell’s unemployment claim despite the fact that she was fired, said Strother.
“Employees are entitled to unemployment,” said Strother. “It clearly wasn’t her decision. … So she would be eligible.”
Berdell is currently suing Wong and School Committee Chair Suzy Littlefield. Her suit alleges that she was fired to protect Wong’s reputation. She is seeking unspecified damages.
Berdell's lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment.
Evan Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org