FORMER AMPHI OFFICIAL SUES BOARD, WANTS $5.3 MILLION - The Explorer: Import

FORMER AMPHI OFFICIAL SUES BOARD, WANTS $5.3 MILLION

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Posted: Tuesday, October 23, 2001 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:46 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

A former Amphitheater Public Schools administrator filed a lawsuit Oct. 18 against the district, the superintendent, its Governing Board members and a former president of the teachers' union for allegedly participaing in a conspiracy that led to her firing.

Katie Frey, formerly an associate superintendent, did not have her contract renewed by Amphi's board in May after more than 25 years working for the district as a teacher and administrator. Frey, who had been an associate superintendent since 1989, is still employed by Amphi as a social studies teacher at La Cima Middle School but has been on a medical leave of absence since May and has not taught any classes.

In July, Frey sent a notice of claim to the board members, Superintendent Vicki Balentine and Associate to the Superintendent Todd Jaeger, Amphi's legal counsel.

The notice asked for $5.3 million, more than $3 million of which was to be in punitive damages from the board members and Balentine, and leveled many of the same allegations made in the lawsuit.

The district did not respond to the notice, said Sandy Forbes, Frey's attorney.

"If there's no response it's deemed denied 60 days after receipt," Forbes said.

Frey's filing alleges that her verbal and financial support of the incumbent board members during a successful recall election in May 2000 skewed the newly elected board members' opinion of her and eventually led them to vote in favor of eliminating her job.

"The conduct of the individual defendants (Board members Ken) Smith, (Nancy) Young (Wright), (Mary) Schuh, (Mike) Prout and (Kent) Barrabee was motivated by evil intent," the lawsuit states.

Frey's job performance came under fire in November when the Arizona Auditor General's Office released the findings of its investigation of Amphi's procurement and purchasing practices in 1999 concerning the construction of Ironwood Ridge High School.

The report stated that a female associate superintendent, of which Frey was the only one, had been responsible for many of the violations of state procurement law Amphi was being cited for. In January 2001 the Arizona Attorney General's Office entered into a consent judgement with Amphi in connection with the violations, requiring district staff to undergo training in procurement practices.

Frey said she told Balentine before board members approved the consent judgment that there were errors in the Auditor General's report and was reassured by the superintendent she would have an opportunity to respond to the charges.

"But they did a settlement before I got a chance to," she said.

While several months elapsed between the report's release and the consent judgment, the lawsuit said Frey's first opportunity to read it came just before the board struck its deal with the Attorney General's Office to avoid fines for the violations.

Andy Morales, a physical education teacher at Rio Vista Elementary School and former Amphitheater Education Association president, is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit but was not mentioned in the original notice. He is accused of being a member of a conspiracy with the intent to hinder Frey's civil rights and force her firing, the lawsuit states.

Morales had been a vocal opponent of the recalled board members, Frey and Jaeger, often speaking against them during call to the audience at board meetings.

In the notice, there was also an allegation that the defendants had violated Frey's rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act, which Forbes said Frey would be covered by due to her diagnosed depression. That allegation was not included in the lawsuit because the special approval required would have held up the filing, Forbes said.

Amphi has placed a gag order on all board members and employees since Frey's lawsuit is a personnel matter, Jaeger said.

"We can't talk about it even in an ad hoc kind of way," Boardmember Mike Prout said.

An item concerning the lawsuit has been added to the board's Oct. 23 meeting agenda to be discussed during an executive session, which is held in secret so the board can receive legal advice from Jaeger.

Due to the Northwest EXPLORER's press time, details of any decisions made at the Oct. 23 meeting were unavailable.

Morales said Oct. 19 that he had not yet seen the lawsuit, but thought the notice of claim was "pretty amateur" and said it cited the incorrect laws when making allegations.

"I don't know if (district officials) really want me to talk," Morales said when asked to elaborate.

Accusations of open meeting law violations were included in the suit as well, the most prominent of which alleged that board members polled each other concerning whether to renew Frey's contract through e-mail.

On March 27, the lawsuit states that Balentine told Frey the board was unanimous in its decision to not renew her contract as associate superintendent for the 2001-2002 school year. The next day board members voted to not renew her contract as part of the consent agenda, a list of items approved in one vote with no discussion.

"Upon information and belief, (the board members) communicated and conferred between and among one another, through electronic mail and other means, in which a quorum of the Governing Board participated, and discussed, considered, and determined (Frey's) tenure as associate superintendent and the non-renewal of (her) contract," the lawsuit states.

Since there were several times when three or more board members communicated with each other via e-mail concerning topics involving Amphi, Frey argues these communiques should be considered meetings.

Under open meeting law, a board meeting requires the posting of an agenda and public notice 24 hours in advance.

Earlier this year, Boardmember Mary Schuh sent an angry e-mail message to Smith after a joint meeting with the Oro Valley Town Council. complaining about statements made by Frey to Oro Valley officials. Schuh's message ended being forwarded to a third boardmember.

While district officials are not commenting on the lawsuit now, in July Boardmember Mary Schuh denied the board had broken the open meeting law by e-mailing each other and also denied that she knew anything about Frey's depression.

The notice of claim was intended to bring about a quick resolution to this matter as well as the money she deserves through a settlement, Frey said

"I think it's really important that people understand I'm not going into this lightly," she said.

Instead, the lawsuit may balloon into a war of litigation as district officials are not interested in settling with Frey, an Amphi administrator said.

Besides determining if Amphi will fight Frey's accusations in court, they must also decide if Jaeger will represent the district.

Jaeger, who was hired by the district in 1997, became friends with Frey while working under former Amphi Superintendent Robert Smith. Smith resigned after the former board majority was recalled and replaced with Schuh, Barrabee and Prout.

© 2014 The Explorer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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