Waukee School Board to approve wrongful termination settlement (updated)

Matt Chapman is a concerned citizen living in Waukee. -promoted by desmoinesdem

The Waukee School Board is set to approve a wrongful termination settlement at its January 22 meeting. Although the agenda does not name the case or provide details, a source with knowledge of the situation indicates that the district will settle with Terry Welker, who was human resources director for the Waukee Community School District until his job was eliminated.

Welker’s lawsuit was one of at least four charging that staff who filed complaints against Chief Operating Officer Eric Rose had their jobs cut or their duties assigned to less experienced employees, among other retaliations.

The Waukee schools cut Welker’s position last year, citing budget constraints. Kim Norvell reported for the Des Moines Register in October that Welker had “provided police and investigators with a diary detailing allegations against Rose dating back to Sept. 21, 2015.”

The Waukee Police Department, which conducted a criminal investigation into Rose’s actions, found “probable cause to support an arrest,” according to a separate report written by Sgt. Jeremy Long and obtained by the Register. But the Dallas County attorney declined to file charges, stating there was insufficient evidence to prevail in court. […]

The Waukee school district hired Two Solutions, an Iowa private investigative agency, to look into Rose’s activities after receiving complaints from several employees, the investigative report said.

Investigators reviewed school reports, emails and camera footage, the report said, and conducted interviews with 15 employees, including former Superintendent Dave Wilkerson.

According to the report, Rose admitted to many of the allegations made by employees […]

Welker and his attorney declined to comment for this story. But in a copy of the diary obtained by the Register, Welker wrote about employees being “summoned” to administrators’ offices and later advising him they were “threatened” not to talk to human resources or the school board about Rose.

He wrote that Cindi McDonald, then associate superintendent of school improvement, used the term “tattling” when referring to employees raising issues with administrators.

UPDATE: You can view the police investigative files at the bottom of this post.

At least three other former Waukee schools employees have sued the district. Former grounds supervisor Jay Oxenford said in a 2014 lawsuit that he was fired in retaliation for telling superiors about Rose’s inaccurate reporting of some spending. A court dismissed that suit in 2016.

A second lawsuit, which Norvell covered in September, is scheduled to go to trial later this year. Former operations manager Nicholas Bavas claims he was forced “into involuntary resignation,” a wrongful termination and violation of Iowa’s whistleblower law.

He says he was retaliated against for disclosing evidence that “he reasonably believed” implicated Chief Operating Officer Eric Rose for theft of school property, falsification of employee time cards and receipt of improper payments from district vendors, according to the lawsuit.

Former administrative assistant Amy Patters just filed suit against the Waukee schools last week, Norvell reported.

Patters disclosed information to investigators that she believed was evidence of “violations of laws, rules and policies; mismanagement, gross abuses of funds, and abuses of authority on the part of Chief Operating Officer Eric Rose,” according to the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, Patters had concerns about Rose’s actions prior to the district-initiated investigation, but she felt unable to report them.

“She reported to internal investigators that employees were discouraged from taking such matters to human resources,” the lawsuit says. “In fact, cameras were installed in the central office to monitor employee activity.”

Soon after the investigation was completed, Patters was told by Rose and [Chief Financial Officer Lora] Appenzeller-Miller that her job was being reorganized and her primary responsibilities were being given to a new, less experienced employee, the lawsuit says. She was given a poor performance review for the first time in seven years.

After last year’s budget increased K-12 school funding by just 1.1 percent, not nearly enough to keep up with rising costs, this scandal will just give more ammunition to “small government” Republican legislators. Their goal is not only to cut funding for schools but to dissolve the Department of Education. Waukee administrators used budget constraints to justify terminating a whistleblower, Terry Welker. Now the school board is poised to approve a settlement because of that retaliation.

William Petroski reported on last year’s school funding debate,

Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, voted for the bill, but he criticized Iowa’s school districts as top-heavy with highly paid administrators. He cited federal reports that have documented skyrocketing school administrative costs, which he labeled as “shocking.”

“The money that the taxpayers are providing should go into the classrooms. The money is not going into the classrooms,” Zaun said.

This year, Zaun has introduced a bill (Senate File 2017) to repeal Iowa Code chapter 256, which establishes the Department of Education, effective July 1, 2019. This would include “the office of the director of the department of education, the state board of education, specifies certain educational standards, establishes various education programs, establishes certain councils and entities within the department of education, provisions relating to the participation in extracurricular activities, establishes the division of library services, includes the library compact, and establishes the public broadcasting division.”

Members of the public can attend the Waukee school board meeting this Monday, January 22, at 6:00 pm at 560 Southeast University. For those who want to contact the school board about malfeasance at high levels of the administration:

Phone: 515-987-5161
Fax: 515-987-2701
Website: www.waukeeschools.org
To contact a school board member: https://www.waukeeschools.org/board/members/

Senator Brad Zaun
Phone: (515) 276-2025
Email: brad.zaun@legis.iowa.gov
Alternate: http://bzaun.com/contact/

UPDATE from desmoinesdem: Matt Chapman obtained a copy of the police investigation file on Eric Rose. The document’s in two parts. Keep in mind that not only does Rose remain employed by the Waukee school district, he received “a 6 percent raise less than a year after the investigation concluded,” Norvell reported for the Register in November.

JANUARY 22 UPDATE from desmoinesdem: Chapman reports that the school board did approve a settlement with Welker at the meeting. They did not disclose the terms or cost of that settlement.

Jon Neiderbach, a former Des Moines school board member and Democratic candidate for governor, commented via Facebook, “This underscores the importance of electing school board members who ask tough, uncomfortable questions of the administration AND TALK REGULARLY TO DISTRICT EMPLOYEES. Too many school boards discourage – in some cases try to prohibit – school board members from direct contact with district employees, and you see what happens.”

LATER UPDATE: Norvell reported on January 22 that the settlement totals $985,000.

According to the agreement, given to the Register after the meeting, Welker will get:

$80,000 for payroll;
$125,073.19 for general compensatory damages, including emotional distress;
$329,926.81 for attorney fees and costs;
and $450,000 to purchase an annuity from National Indemnity Co.
Bunz said the money will come from the management budget, and will not be taken from teachers or students. The district’s tax rate will not increase due to the settlement, she said.

The school district does not admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement.

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