Friday, July 09, 2010

TOP STORY > >PCSSD to pay $275,000 in bias suits

Leader staff writer

The school board for the Pulaski County Special School District in closed session at an emergency meeting Thursday approved agreements to settle complaints by two district employees — one black, the other white — with pay-offs totaling up to $275,000.

The board voted to pay $200,000 by the end of the month to Donna Humphries, who recently retired from her job as counselor at Sherwood Elementary School. Humphries, who said she was denied promotion because she’s white, filed a complaint in 2006 and an amended complaint in 2007, both in U.S. District Court, alleging that she had been a victim of reverse discrimination and breach of contract.

Since 1996, she applied for about 16 administrative positions and in at least 12 cases was passed over for much less qualified or totally unqualified candidates. In return for the settlement, Humphries agreed not to take any future legal action against the district.

The board voted to pay Mike Nellums $50,000 – a “personal payment” in the terms of the settlement agreement – as well as up to $25,000 for attorney’s fees to settle his complaint against the district arising from an investigation of his performance while principal of Jacksonville Boys Middle School and the former Superintendent Rob McGill’s recommendation that he be fired. The district will also pay Nellums’ taxes on the $50,000.

Nellums wrote in the proposed settlement agreement that his claim against the district was in response to “a certain investigation and complaints concerning my job performance and activities related thereto, all as were memorialized in a submission to the PCSSD board of directors dated Sept. 12, 2009 and sent by Acting Superintendent Robert McGill to Michael Nellums together with certain policies and statutes.”

McGill, who conducted the investigation of Nellums, recommended that Nellums be terminated. On Sept. 28, 2009, the board voted 4-3 not to uphold McGill’s recommendation.

Nellums was reassigned to Mills University Studies High School, where he now serves as principal.

The Arkansas Board of Education sent a letter to the district on May 27 stating that it “had not followed its own policies in respect to the investigation of Mr. Nellums.”

Yesterday, Nellums received the first of two equal installments of the payment from the district. The other is to be paid by Jan. 7, 2011.

In exchange for Nellums agreeing to take no legal action against the district pertaining to the recommendation that he be fired, the district has agreed to remove all related documents from his personnel file as “permitted by state law.”

Any remaining documents that relate to the incident will be sealed and accessible only by a court order.

The district will also remove any references to the so-called “termination matter” from district minutes and website, the settlement agreement states.

In addition, board president Tim Clark agreed to write a letter of recommendation for Nellums if requested.

Personnel matters account for a large portion of the district’s legal bills, totaling almost $126,743 in 2008-09 and $235,426 through May of the 2009-10 fiscal year. Grievances are the reason for most personnel-related legal bills, according to Anita

Farver, chief financial officer for the district.

After the board meeting, new Superintendent Charles Hopson said he felt it was “more expedient” to settle the two lawsuits out of court, but he wants the district and board to chart a new course in personnel relations.

“My intent as superintendent is to make sure we don’t have these kinds of actions in the future,” Hopson said. “We need to be proactive and treat people in a way so that these kinds of actions are minimized.”

In other business, the board approved 2010-11 performance objectives for Hopson and board operating principles, both of which the board had developed at a retreat on June 26.

Each goal has indicators and target dates that school patrons will be able to track on the district’s website, Hopson said.

Hopson has agreed to:

Improve student achievement for all students that result in increases in test scores and a closing of the achievement gap.

Develop a sound financial plan to avoid fiscal distress and prepare for future state audits and successful conclusion of the desegregation case.

Work to restore confidence in the district by building better relationships with stakeholders.

The board has pledged to operating principles in the areas of accountability, board communication and professionalism, planning and goal setting, board meeting procedures, processes for addressing patron concerns and the district chain of command.