As far as I know, there are currently two outstanding lawsuits against the district and Dr. Metzler. The first is a Right to Know suit I launched myself for salary information in a useful form. The second is a federal First Amendment suit by a teacher, Carolyn Morse, who was temporarily suspended and demoted for what she claims was a posting on a district-related Facebook page.
The Employee Named in the Suits is Also the One Deciding to Pursue Them in Court
These cases both follow from actions of Dr. Metzler. In my case it was the decision not to provide me with salary information in a usable form. In Mrs. Morse’s case, it was disciplinary action. In neither case did the school board take a vote to defend against these legal actions, or to consult district lawyers. It wasn’t needed because the board gave Dr. Metzler the unilateral authority to consult and engage legal counsel at his will. The Timberlane School Board and the SAU Board did this in seriously misguided votes in March at their respective re-organizational meetings. [Meeting clips posted below.]
Decisions are Kept Secret Even from the Board
But it gets worse. Not only was there no vote to pursue legal action in both cases but the school board was not even informed of Mrs. Morse’s case until residents of our district presented a petition to the school board to make Mrs. Morse whole at the June 18th school board meeting. Her suit was filed in court on May 28*, 2015.
I know my case was discussed in non-public in my requested absence. Mrs. Morse’s case was never mentioned to the board, yet Mr. Bealo is quoted in the Eagle Tribune”s June 20th edition saying “I believe we’ll end up victorious in court.” How could Mr. Bealo form such an opinion when the board was not told anything whatsoever about even the existence of this case, let alone the merits of it?
The superintendent very clearly shares information with some school board members and not with others. This is obvious and has been so for a long time when I was refused an opportunity to review a legal letter about an issue I raised in 2014 relating the the LGC return of surplus while Mr. Bealo and other favorites on the board were given access to the legal opinion.
Unnecessary Costs and Action
So here we have an administrator who is making decisions resulting in legal action, who is also the sole authority to decide whether or not to spend taxpayer money to pursue in court. The result is, in my opinion, needless legal expenses. My case certainly did not require the expenditure of any tax dollars in lawyers’ fees. I could have been easily given an electronic file copy of all the public information I was requesting and a request could have been made asking me to drop my suit. Mrs. Morse’s complaint could have been brought before the school board as a first step to see if a reasonable resolution could be found to the situation. Instead, the superintendent sought legal advice and decided to fight her case in court without consulting with the school board first.
We have at Timberlane and at SAU 55 a completely unacceptable situation where one person is deciding to spend taxpayer money on cases that he himself is personally named in. The school board should be trying to be more conciliatory towards complainants rather than facing them off in court at great taxpayer expense. My own case is going to the NH Supreme Court and my own lawyer’s bill to me will be in the five figures. The district will certainly be paying at least as much. Why not just give me an electronic file of the salary information that is public information anyway?
Why not approach Mrs. Morse to explore mediation rather than fight it in court?
I honestly don’t understand the need for the two cases facing our district right now, and I certainly don’t understand the passivity of the school board in accepting that taxpayer money is spent on lawyers without their approval or knowledge. Something is very wrong with this picture and taxpayers are the one’s suffering for it.
A Culture of Fear
I want to make clear that I know nothing about Mrs. Morse’s case beyond what I have read in the publicly disclosed lawsuit. I have not heard Dr. Metzler’s side of things nor do I have enough knowledge to take a position on the merits of the case. The case does disturb me, however, in light of the statements of the representatives of the Timberlane Teachers’ Association at the June 18th school board meeting. They spoke of a culture of fear in the district.
I can speak first hand about that. Last year Dr. Metzler made an unfounded complaint against me to the Plaistow Police, claiming that I harassed an employee at the SAU. He personally called upon Lt. William Baldwin of the Plaistow Police to investigate. Mr. Baldwin is a former school board chairman. He dragged out the “investigation” for months while the SAU refused to release the security video tape that did eventually completely exonerate me of the false accusations. Only the intervention of my lawyer resulted in me getting the security tape and thereby being able to publish it on this blog, and bringing the “investigation” to an end. Now I bring someone with me when I have any business beyond the view of video cameras at the SAU.
If an elected official feels fear when dealing with the SAU, how more so must teachers whose livelihoods are in the control of the SAU?
School Board Must Assert Itself
Your other elected officials on the school board must not ignore the seeming flurry of lawsuits and the cost of them. You, the taxpayer, are the victims here. With $2.6 million in surplus, there is no budget limitation that will stop this legal spiral.
*Originally blogged “May 29.”