Thursday, January 02, 2014

Two whistle-blowers--a teacher and a business manager--settle with Willamette ESD

Fired WESD superintendent Maureen Casey.

Two whistle-blowers settle with Willamette Education Serivce district (Oregon)

(See also Willamette ESD problems with open meetings.)

WESD finalizes $150,000 settlement with former teacher over whistleblower lawsuit
Nov. 1, 2013
Queenie Wong
Statesman Journal

A laid off Willamette Education Service District teacher and her lawyer will get $150,000 as part of a settlement to a whistleblower lawsuit filed against the district three years ago.

Former teacher Terri Moore claimed she lost her job because she repeatedly reported safety violations at the high school at Hillcrest Youth Correctional Facility and filed a formal complaint about harassment and bullying by Bill Conlon, the school's principal.

She filed a lawsuit in Marion County Circuit Court in 2010 asking for as much as $500,000, plus attorney fees and reinstatement as a full-time teacher.

Under the settlement, Moore will get $86,355.75 and the law firm representing her — Lafky and Lafky — will receive $63,644.25.

She won't be entitled to return as a full-time employee at WESD, but could still work as a substitute teacher, according to the agreement.

WESD’s liability carrier the Special Districts Association of Oregon decided to settle the lawsuit because of the costs of going to trial last month.

The district’s board chairman Ken Hector said in a statement Friday he understood the carrier’s decision to settle the case.

“Choosing to move forward to defend the case at trial would burden WESD with all attorney fees and costs, impacting our general fund,” Hector said. “The ultimate outcome of resolution for this case is best for WESD and the districts we serve.”

Moore taught health and physical education at WESD's youth correction education programs but was laid off in 2009 after 11 years with the district.

WESD has denied the allegations brought by Moore, noting that they have been thoroughly investigated and found to be without merit. The district’s settlement signed by Moore is not an admission of wrongdoing or liability.

Moore’s lawyer Kevin Lafky said it’s clear Moore was retaliated against. She wanted to get her old job back, but since that did not happen they decided settling was the best thing for her to get some sort of compensation for the retaliation.

“The money she’s getting paid certainty doesn’t make up for losing a full-time job with benefits,” Lafky said. “For years, she’s been working as a substitute teacher to make ends meet since she was terminated from WESD.”

It’s not the first time that the education service district has settled a whistleblower lawsuit filed against a former teacher.

In 2010, the district settled a lawsuit for $45,000 with Maggie Vogenbeck in which the former teacher claimed state and federal discrimination, whistleblower retaliation and wrongful discharge.

WESD provides education services such as special education, home school registration and professional development to 17 school district in Marion, Polk and Yamhill counties, according to its website.


Oregon Whistleblower suit settled for $125,000
July 25, 2012

SALEM, Ore. (AP) -- An agency that provides centralized services to schools in the middle Willamette Valley has quietly settled a lawsuit brought by a whistleblower.

Complaints from the former business manager of the Willamette Education Service District set off investigations of mismanagement and resulted in the firing of the district's superintendent, Maureen Casey.

The former business manager, Kathy Campbell, will get $125,000 in the settlement -- about a third going to her lawyer, the Salem Statesman Journal reported Monday.

The paper says the district signed the settlement June 1 but that came to light only recently, when the paper asked the district for documents.

Campbell alleged Casey retaliated against her. She filed suit in September 2010, asking for $1.58 million in damages.

The district said it settled with Campbell under pressure from its insurance carrier. If it had continued to litigate, the district would have borne the cost.

"The board has reluctantly agreed to settle this case," board member Larry Trott said in a statement.

Campbell declined to comment.

"Her only statement is that the matter has been resolved, and she's glad to put it behind her," said her lawyer, Larry Linder.

The agency serves 17 school districts in Marion, Polk and Yamhill counties. It's one of 17 such districts in the state that provide centralized services such as information technology or special education.

An internal investigation into Campbell's complaints confirmed management and financial improprieties.

Then a state audit completed in January 2010 found questionable expenditures, improper contracting, commingled funds and an effort to hide the district's true financial condition. The Statesman Journal's investigation documented further problems and showed that concerns about the problems were ignored for years.

Since then, the district has faced multiple lawsuits, shut down money-losing entrepreneurial ventures and laid off a third of its workers. With an annual budget of $95 million, the district ended the last school year $2.1 million in the red. Among the lawsuits is Casey's, alleging wrongful termination.

Oregon public meetings law allows public bodies to discuss lawsuits in sessions closed to the public, but final decisions must be made in a public vote. The board's minutes don't record a vote on the settlement.

District spokesman Brian Florip said a vote was not required because the district's contract with its carrier allows the insurance company and the district's lawyer to resolve the case without the board's approval.


Willamette ESD mess stinks on so many levels
State officials must step in to take control of the situation
Statesman Journal
November 23, 2005

The Willamette Education Service District is a mess - a rotten, stinking mess. State and federal investigators should be crawling all over it, rooting out evidence and filing legal and ethics charges.

Stories in Thursday's and Friday's Statesman Journal revealed a WESD management that allowed widespread violations in the migrant-education program - and then rewarded them.

The WESD's own investigation found a roster of abuses by former migrant-education director Nicolasa Mohs and her program: Hiring of family members. Severe problems in the food services. Applying for outside jobs on ESD time. Outlandish requests for reimbursements, including for alcohol. Retaliation against employees and violations of worker laws and district policies. Lack of accountability for grant money. And on and on.

About the only people who seemed to have a handle on the situation were the leaders of area school districts who refused to do business with Mohs.

If these allegations were true, they should have gotten Mohs fired and strung up before the state ethics and teacher-licensing commissions. Firing was the recommendation of Assistant Superintendent Dave Novotney, who conducted the investigation.

Instead, WESD Superintendent Maureen Casey settled with Mohs, after Mohs filed a civil-rights complaint. The Statesman Journal's review of the documents found that Mohs was rehired as an independent contractor at her old salary, plus additional payments, in return for dropping the complaint.

That's unconscionable, but it gets even worse. The documents show that Mohs was promised a positive letter of reference, that the problems would not be disclosed to potential employers and that the results of the internal investigation would not be reported to state regulatory commissions.

If that's the case, neither Mohs nor Casey deserves to work in education one more day. The WESD board should get rid of them, along with any other staff members who allowed these problems to fester.

The board also owes the public a prompt accounting of what happened and why.

School boards are charged with protecting the public's interests. Where was the WESD board during all this? Either asleep, being manipulated by the district administration or both. Board member Jolene Garland resigned last week, saying in part it was because the board lacked any real say in district operations.

Board members said that they first learned of the civil-rights complaint during a closed-door meeting, which was of dubious legality. Casey, they said, did not tell them about the investigation report, the settlement agreement or the consultant contract until after the Statesman Journal started asking questions.

These tawdry dealings should send shockwaves through the state educational establishment. They are one more indicator that the 2007 Legislature should have the guts to either eliminate education service districts or put them under tighter control.

This case also calls into question the role of school boards and the accuracy of job recommendations. How many other school boards in Oregon are so trusting and unquestioning of their administrators that they lack an accurate picture of what's going on? How many problem educators are passed along from one district to another with glowing recommendations instead of being barred from the profession?

Under a 2005 change in state law, WESD board members now will be chosen by school districts instead of voters. That can't come soon enough.

Until then, state officials should exercise whatever emergency powers are available to take control of the Willamette ESD and clean up this mess.


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