Dayton schools admit public records error

Dayton Public Schools improperly denied a resident’s public information request, then turned over the same document to this newspaper with no objection.

Mario Gallin said she requested a copy of the “settlement agreement” between former superintendent Lori Ward and Dayton’s board of education after it was referenced at the June 25 school board meeting.

DPS staff attorney Jyllian Guerriero responded July 1 to Gallin, a former school board member, that “the agreement between Ms. Ward and the Board is attorney-client privileged, and not subject to public records requests.”

The Ohio Attorney General’s office pointed to its Sunshine Laws manual, which says “records of communication between a client and attorney” are protected, but agreements between parties are not. It also says, “any promise not to release a settlement agreement is void and unenforceable because a contractual provision will not supersede Ohio public records law.”

Upon learning of DPS’ denial, this newspaper made its own records request for the same document on July 13 and received it six days later. Asked about the issue Thursday, Guerriero said she “owes Mario an apology.”

“When she submitted that request, I was moving at 100 mph and (thought), oh yeah, settlement agreements are privileged,” Guerriero said. “Then I got your request and did some more research and realized, absolutely, it’s a public record, and released it. I meant to circle back with Mario and give it to her and I just forgot.”

This is not the first issue Dayton Public Schools has had with open records and open meetings. At least twice during the 2015-16 school year, DPS held special school board meetings with no public notice, or less than an hour’s notice, even though state law requires 24 hours’ notice in such cases.

The document in question here, Ward’s settlement agreement, was signed by Ward and board president Adil Baguirov on April 13, after the parties determined they would not reach agreement on a new contract. It was intended to “define the terms upon which Ward will serve the Board through the remaining term of the Contract on amicable terms.”

The agreement called for Ward and the board to release a jointly drafted statement about her departure, called for the board to sign an agreed-upon letter of recommendation, and called for the board to pay Ward all accumulated personal, vacation and sick leave, assuming Ward completed her term through June 30.

The agreement also clarified that the noncompete clause in Ward’s contract allows her to seek immediate employment with a private or parochial school in Dayton. The clause prohibits Ward from working for a Dayton charter school for three years.

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