Ex-treasurer wins court reversal over contract with Dayton Schools

An appeals court has ruled in favor of former school treasurer Craig Jones in a lawsuit where Jones claimed Dayton Public Schools improperly non-renewed his contract in 2016.

Ohio’s Second District Court of Appeals last week reversed a 2017 Montgomery County Common Pleas Court decision that had been in DPS’ favor, ordering the case remanded back to the lower court for further proceedings.

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Attorney Brian Wildermuth, who represented the school district in the appeal, said when the case returns to the trial court, the focus is likely to be on damages and mitigation of damages.

“Those issues will require discovery. We cannot say, at this point, whether the matter will be resolved short of a trial,” Wildermuth said. “Mr. Jones will not be reinstated.”

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Jones’ attorney, Dennis Pergram, could not be reached for comment.

Asked whether he wants to be reinstated or wants back pay and damages, Jones was noncommittal, saying he would wait to see how the Common Pleas Court judge handles the case. But Jones said he was glad that he stood up for his rights.

“My parents raised me to stand up for what I believe in and do the right thing in the right way,” Jones said. “The way everything went down (with his nonrenewal) was not correct. That was my whole thing.”

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The case revolved around a “special meeting” of Dayton’s school board, held Feb. 23, 2016, in which the board voted not to renew the contracts of Jones and Superintendent Lori Ward upon those contracts’ expiration in summer 2016.

Jones’ original lawsuit argued that there were several violations of open meetings law and DPS policy in connection with that meeting. Judge Steven Dankof disagreed, granting the school board’s motion for summary judgment.

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But the appeals court reversed that decision. They identified multiple points where the meeting notice was noncompliant with Ohio law and DPS policy. But only one of those points was key to the reversal.

“The board’s special meeting notice failed to comply with Ohio Revised Code 121.22 (F), because the board failed to properly state the purpose of the open session of the meeting,” the opinion written by Judge Jeffrey M. Welbaum said. “The board’s resolution not to renew Jones’ contract, therefore, was invalid, and the trial court erred in rendering summary judgment in the board’s favor.”

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Under Ohio law, any notice of a special meeting of a public body must be sufficient for a person to determine the purpose of the meeting. DPS’ meeting notice said the board would go into executive session to consider employment of public employees then might act on recommendations from the superintendent and/or treasurer.

“The board president (then Adil Baguirov) knew that the board was not going to consider recommendations of the superintendent or treasurer with respect to public employees,” Welbaum wrote, citing Baguirov’s own affidavit. “The superintendent or treasurer would hardly have recommended nonrenewal of their own contracts. Furthermore, the board president knew prior to the issuance of the notice that the meeting’s purpose was to discuss nonrenewal of the contracts.”

If Jones wins damages, or receives a settlement, it will mark at least the fourth time in the past two years that DPS has paid a district leader a financial settlement for unworked time upon their departure.

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Lori Ward received $149,000 for unused leave time as part of an April 2016 settlement. Administrator David Lawrence, bought out in February 2017, is being paid close to $200,000 for his contract through June 2018. Rhonda Corr, Ward’s successor as superintendent, is being paid more than $130,000 in salary and benefits through July for a separation agreement reached in January.

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