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Ex-WCS employee given partial judgement

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By Jesse Osbourne

 

A former employee of the Washington County Board of Education was granted partial summary judgement on Nov. 9 in a complaint filed against the school board and superintendent.


David J. Claeys, a former bus driver, custodian and maintenance employee of the school system, filed the original complaint on Nov. 18, 2011.
The partial summary judgement was filed on Nov. 9, 2012.
According to the order, signed by Washington Circuit Judge Dan Kelly, “summary judgement shall be granted when the evidence shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgement as a matter of law.”
In the summary of facts, it states that Claeys was hired as a bus driver on Jan. 3, 2007 and transferred from bus driver to custodian to maintenance.
According to the order, Claeys was given a notice of non-renewal by Washington County Schools Superintendent Robin Cochran on May 9, 2011 and given reason of “alteration of program staffing (per supervisor’s recommendation).”
Claeys requested a summary judgement based on two separate arguments, according to the order.
One, was that the Washington County Board of Education failed to state grounds of non-renewal under KRS 161.011(7), which states “nothing in this section shall prevent a superintendent from terminating a classified employee for incompetency, neglect of duty, insubordination, inefficiency, misconduct, immorality, or other reasonable grounds which are specifically contained in board policy.”
Claeys other reason for requesting summary judgement was the board of education’s “failure to provide non-renewal notice via the superintendent per KRS 161.011(5)(a).
That law states that “an employee who has not completed four years of continuous active service, upon written notice which is provided or mailed to the employee by the superintendent, no later than May 15, that the contract will not be renewed for the subsequent school year.”
Kelly states in the order that KRS 161.011(5) sets two different standards for non-renewal of a classified employee.
One subsection of the law “sets out the non-renewal requirements for an employee that has not completed four years of continuous active service and another subsection of that law sets out the non-renewal requirements for an employee that has completed four years of continuous active service.
Claeys argues that he had completed four years of continuous active service, while the board argues that he had not, Kelly stated in the order.
“It is clear that the Defendants (sic) did comply with the requirements of subsection (5)(a) but did not comply with (5)(b),” Kelly stated in the order. “Subsection (5)(b) requires that non-renewal notice must list one or more reasons that are described in subsection (7)” (listed above).
Kelly states that the board of education’s non-renewal notice does not contain one of the listed reasons for non-renewal.
“This Court (sic) must determine if the Plaintiff (sic) had completed four years of continuous active service, and therefore if the Defendants (sic) were required to comply with KRS 161.011(5)(b).”
According to Kelly, the board argues that the term ‘years’ should be interpreted as a school or academic year rather than a calendar year.
While the board pointed to statutes (KRS 158.050, KRS 158.060 and KRS 161.720 (2)) that define ‘year’ as an academic year and not a calendar year.
“This does not help the Defendants’ (sic) claim, it only demonstrates that the legislators have previously changed the ordinary understanding of ‘year’ when they intended the word to have a different meaning,” Kelly wrote.
Because of that, Kelly wrote that the court must interpret ‘year’ by its ordinary meaning and find that Claeys did work for four continuous years of active service and that the board of education failed to comply with KRS 161.011(5) in their non-renewal of Claeys and that they did not comply with KRS 161.011.
Claeys had also alleged that Robin Cochran was not the superintendent at the time of his non-renewal, therefore causing the board of education to fail to meet the requirement that a non-renewal be delivered by the superintendent.
“Plaintiff has asked for documents that show that Robin Cochran was made the Superintendent (sic) by the school board, and did not receive them,” Kelly wrote in the order. “Defendants argue despite these documents being lost, that the Court (sic) should consider as evidence a newspaper article of the event, and a Board of Education (sic) meeting with affidavits recounting Ms. Cochran’s employment as Superintendent (sic).”
Kelly wrote that it is possible that the board of education will be able to establish that Cochran was the superintendent at the time of Claeys’ non-renewal.
The board presented the court with a story from The Springfield Sun, dated Aug. 19, 2009, that featured a story and photo about Cochran signing a contract to become the superintendent.
The board filed a motion on Nov. 20 to reconsider, alter, amend or vacate the previous partial summary judgment made in favor of Claeys. The board also asked for a full summary judgement in its favor.
In that motion, the board argued that “the board of education is entitled to governmental immunity from all of Claeys’ claims asserted under state law.”
“The Board of Education (sic) is an arm of the State (sic) government,” according to the board’s motion. “Thus the Board (sic) is entitled to governmental immunity from claims sounding under common law tort, statutory law, and the Kentucky Constitution.”
The board also argued that “the amended complaint fails to state a claim under Section 1983 or any corresponding state law.”
Under that general argument, the board cited that Claeys non-renewal did contain a reason for non-renewal.
“Under KRS 161.011(7), reasons for non-renewal include ‘other reasonable grounds which are specifically contained in board policy,’” the board argued.
According to the motion, the board adopted policy on July 20, 2009 relating to the non-renewal of classified personnel.
“Within that policy is the broad authority to non-renew personnel if a position becomes obsolete or redundant due to program re-organization, changes to program requirements, elimination or reduction of a program, including a council decision that fewer employees are needed at the school, or any other change in District (sic) personnel staffing policies or guidelines,” according to the motion.
In the notice of non-renewal, the motion states, the reason for Claeys’ non-renewal was listed as “Alteration of program staffing (per supervisor’s recommendation).”
“This statement was intended to and does comport with the Board’s (sic) policy 03.2711 enunciating additional grounds for non-renewal beyond those specifically listed in the statute,” according to the motion.
The board also noted that regardless of which subsection of the law Claeys was protected by, both gave him 10 days from receipt of the non-renewal notice to request written reasons for non-renewal.
“Claeys failed to avail himself of this procedure,” the motion stated. “If Claeys’ believed he was entitled to a hearing as an employee with more than four years of continuous active service, he could have requested a hearing to contest the grounds stated by the Superintendent (sic).”
In the motion, the board also disputes the court’s interpretation of the word ‘year’ made in the partial summary judgement.
“This Court’s (sic) interpretation of the word ‘year’ in KRS 161.011(5)(b) leads to an absurd and untenable result, and renders other portions of the statute futile,” the board argued. “This Court (sic) also neglected the language of KRS 161.011(5) which precedes subsections (a) and (b).”
In that language, the board argues, the General Assembly established that contracts with classified employees be renewed annually.
“This reference to ‘annual’ renewal of contracts must be read in light of KRS 158.050 which defines ‘school year’ to begin on July 1 and end on June 30,” the board argues.
The board also urged the court to reconsider its analysis of the language of KRS 161.011(5)(a) and (b) and conclude, as the state Supreme Court did in Board of Education of Kenton County, Kentucky vs. Paul, that “a reading of the statute which renders the May 15 deadline a nullity cannot be the reading intended by the General Assembly.”
In conclusion, the board stated in the motion that “based on the substantial weight of the authority cited, the Court (sic) is respectfully urged to grant to reverse the partial summary judgement granted to Claeys, and to grant full summary judgement to the Defendants (sic).”
The motion made by the board is scheduled for a hearing at 9 a.m. on Jan. 23 in Washington Circuit Court.