The St. Francis School Board reached agreement Jan. 27 on the hiring of independent counsel to review a case that has resulted in Superintendent Ed Saxton and Director of Human Resources David Lindberg being placed on paid administrative leave.
The matter stems from Jan. 8, when Lindberg reported that Saxton had handed him a letter of dismissal along with one final paycheck. Lindberg vowed not to endorse or deposit the check, alleging that Saxton violated district policy along with state statute by acting to terminate the director of human resources without explanation. The state statute guarantees a hearing before dismissal for any military veteran holding a hired or appointed position with a school district, city or county.
Lindberg wrote in a letter to board members and the district’s general counsel that he believed Saxton moved for his dismissal because the he had previously challenged Saxton’s leadership style.
According to School Board Chairperson David Roberts, the board did not ratify the call for Lindberg’s termination, thus he remains an employee of the district.
Roberts said Jan. 27 that he would contact attorney Mary Rice, from Fafinski Mark and Johnson, P.A., Jan. 28 after the board reached consensus on her hiring over two other options. The district’s general counsel offered all three names for board members’ consideration based on previous work with each office on other district matters.
After Roberts shared all details that he was legally able to discuss with Rice in assessing her suitability for the investigation, she estimated that with an hourly rate of $200, her costs would reach an estimated $18,000 to $20,000 based on past similar cases.
Rice said the investigation may take three or four days, followed by compiling a report that could take two weeks, according to Roberts.
Board members were quick to agree Jan. 27 that Rice appeared to be their best option. Another candidate for the agreement said their office would be available for the investigation, but that an associate would need to begin the work while the office’s attorney with direct knowledge of the district would enter the case at a midway point.
School Board member Betsy Roed said she would want the district to hire one person who could start and finish the investigation.
The board had some discussion whether to set a fee limit for Rice’s services. Business Services Director Scott Nelson said that the general fund contains legal appropriations to cover the cost.
Board members ended up not setting a maximum fee, but instead they said they would be content to get a call from Rice if she determined her cost would rise significantly higher than $20,000.
“I’m comfortable with not having a hard number,” board member Amy Kelly said Jan. 27. “I’m more concerned with having a thorough investigation.”
Board member Marsha Van Denburgh said she concurred with Kelly’s statement.
In his new role as interim district superintendent, sitting to Roberts’ right at the Jan. 27 meeting, Director of Community Education Troy Ferguson said that students were getting only one full day of school among his first four days in the position.
St. Francis called for a two-hour delay in the start of school Jan. 23 (Ferguson’s first day as interim superintendent) while all classes were canceled Jan. 27 and 28 due to projected subzero temperatures.
Ferguson said that all neighboring school districts generally will cancel school when temperatures are projected to fall 20 degrees below zero with wind chills of 40 below or colder.
Kelly asked about the likelihood of District 15 needing to add school days at the end of the spring schedule to make up lost days in the winter. “This is probably a discussion we’ll have to have at some point,” she said.
“We don’t have an answer right now, but yes, we’ll have to revisit this,” Ferguson said.
This month is on record as one of the five coldest Januarys in the past 30 years, he said. “We haven’t even gotten to the snowy season yet,” Ferguson said.