Opinions 

4/25/2003

Kirkland to sue district

Kendra E. Fish and Trevor Hughes
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Ken Kirkland, who was officially fired by the St. Vrain Valley School District on Wednesday night, said Thursday afternoon that he will sue the district for breach of contract.

“I guess I’m not surprised,” said Board of Education President Kathy Hall. Kirkland — the former assistant superintendent for business services, who has fronted much of the blame for the district ’s financial crisis — left his post and has remained on unpaid leave since Nov. 18, the day the district revealed it was facing a $13.8 million deficit.

On Wednesday, the board unanimously decided to terminate his employment. “There’s a difference of opinion between the board and me,” said Kirkland. “We’re looking to a third party to resolve it.”

According to Richard Kalamaya, a Longmont lawyer independent of the district ’s situation, the legal relationship between the school district and Kirkland is laid out in Kirkland’s contract.

Kirkland’s one-page employment contract is dated from July 1, 2002, to June 30, 2003, and lacks a clause allowing him to be fired for a good reason.

Such a clause is commonly and explicitly contained in employment contracts for other public bodies, and that could give Kirkland grounds to contest the board’s decision.

When asked if there were parts of the district ’s financial crisis of which the public is still unaware, Kirkland said, “When the suit’s filed, that will be clear.”

He declined to give specific details to his comment but said, “Because of the litigation, it would be inappropriate for me to comment.”

“I suspect Ken will say, ‘Hey, I told people what was happening, and it wasn’t my fault,’” Hall said. “If there is any information he is referring to, I don’t know what it would be.”

Kirkland would not say when he plans to file the suit.

Walker Nielsen, the district ’s former director of finance, also resigned in November. About three weeks later, Nielsen resigned without conditions in an e-mail to the district — forfeiting his pay.

“Walker Nielsen decided months ago to walk away and accept responsibility, but Ken didn’t,” Hall said. “Since then, I always expected Ken would (sue the district ).”

So far, the district has spent $6,132.42 on legal fees related to Kirkland’s contract and $256.21 related to Nielsen, according to district records. In a termination agreement between Kirkland and district , both sides agreed not to comment on the situation.

“It is reasonable to anticipate that the media would request additional information from board members and/or district administrators regarding the matter. All such questions will be referred to Dr. Zila, whose response will be, ‘Because it is a personnel matter, I have no comment’ or words to that effect.” Furthermore, the agreement states that “Dr. Kirkland and you, meaning (attorney) Robert Cohn, agree that neither of you will make any comment regarding the matter.”

Much of the information released by the district regarding its recent financial crisis and last year’s investigation into credit card misuse by an administrative secretary has come as a result of open records requests by the Times-Call.

Kirkland’s termination agreement also states that there has been no financial settlement.

In Thursday’s phone conversation, Kirkland told the Daily Times-Call he has been living in Longmont and wanted “to dispel any notion that I’ve been hiding.”

“People have not turned on me, and I still feel like a member of the community,” he said. “People who were friends before are still friends. They have been supporting me.”

Kirkland also said he never falsified documents or lied to the district . As to any comments concerning the recent accusation that Kirkland signed leases for two copy machines — costing the district and taxpayers $140,000 per year— without board approval, and why he did not include in the budget several lease-purchase agreements for energy-saving equipment, he repeatedly said one thing. “Anything that relates to the district or my time there would be inappropriate because of the current litigation,” Kirkland said.

Kendra Fish can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 211, or by e-mail at kfish@times-call.com.

Trevor Hughes can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 220, or by e-mail at thughes@times-call.com.

 

 
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