District rebuts Kirkland's claims

By Paula Aven Gladych
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — The St. Vrain Valley School District responded to former Assistant Superintendent Ken Kirkland’s lawsuit against it, essentially denying all of his complaints.

Kirkland was fired from the district April 23 following disclosure of events that led to the district’s $13.8 million deficit.

He filed his initial complaint against the district June 23, in U.S. District Court, claiming the district and members of the Board of Education humiliated him and caused him mental anguish following what he called his illegal dismissal. He also accused them of violating his employment contract with the district.

Lawyers for St. Vrain’s insurance carrier filed an answer to Kirkland’s amended complaint in U.S. District Court this week, along with a list of counterclaims and a motion to dismiss defamation claims against board Vice President Rick Samson.

The response admits that Kirkland’s employment with the district was governed by a written employment contract but added that his employment also was governed by school board policy and state law.

The district denied that it asked Kirkland to resign his position with the district or that it offered to pay his contract salary and health insurance benefits through the end of his employment contract term, which was June 30.

Kirkland said in his complaint that the school district and board rejected his resignation, instead keeping him on as an employee and putting him on administrative leave without pay. He also claimed the district denied him the opportunity for a hearing after he was dismissed.

The district denied these and all other allegations that it deprived Kirkland of money and benefits that were rightfully his and jeopardized his ability for future employment.

In its counterclaim against Kirkland, the school district said that as an employee, “Kirkland had a duty to exercise a reasonable degree of care, skill and judgment in the performance and discharge of his responsibilities,” but because he “violated” that duty he “breached his employment contract with the school district.”

Because of this violation, the school district believes it sustained substantial damages, including attorneys’ fees, accounting and administrative expenses and interest payments, the claim said.

According to the district, Kirkland was responsible for preparing proposed budgets for the district, administration of district finances, communication with the Board of Education regarding the financial condition of the district, making recommendations to the superintendent of schools and Board of Education regarding budgets and financial matters, and supervision of school district personnel responsible for the administration of school district budgets and finances.

“Kirkland recommended that the Board of Education adopt budgets he knew or should have known would result in substantial deficits. In recommending such budgets, Kirkland did not advise the Board of the deficits that would result if the budgets were adopted,” the counterclaim stated.

Kirkland also advised the board that “it had adequate reserves to cover expenditures being made by the school district when in fact the school district had no reserves.”

The claim also stated that when a subordinate employee advised Kirkland that a balanced budget could not be presented to the board, “Kirkland instructed the employee to overstate the beginning fund balance.

“As a result of Kirkland’s failure to properly administer the budget and school district finances and failure to supervise employees under his supervision, substantial errors were made in presenting budget and financial information to the Board of Education,” the claim stated. Those errors led the district to overspend and “precipitated a financial crisis that damaged the school district.”

St. Vrain also filed a motion to dismiss Kirkland’s claim for relief from defamatory statements made by Samson during regularly scheduled board meetings.

According to the motion, Kirkland’s claim is barred by the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act because he “failed to give notice as required by the act.”

The Immunity Act requires that any person claiming to have suffered an injury by a public entity or one of that entity’s employees “must file a written notice within 180 days after the date of the discovery of the injury, regardless of whether the person then knew all of the elements of a claim or of a cause of action for such injury.”

Samson made his comments at board meetings in November and December and Kirkland filed suit at the end of June.

Other court decisions protect statements made by public employees as part of their job. The district admits that Samson’s statements were made within the course and scope of his Board of Education office.

The district said that if the court determines that a question still remains about whether Samson’s remarks were made in the context of his duties as a board member, an evidentiary hearing should be held.

Paula Aven Gladych can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 211, or by e-mail at pavengladych@times-call.com.


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