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Former superintendent sues Apache Junction school district for $250K

Posted 8/31/21

A former superintendent is suing the Apache Junction Unified School District over breach of contract, seeking $250,000 in compensation.

The complaint was filed March 30 with the clerk of the Pinal …

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Subscriber exclusive

Former superintendent sues Apache Junction school district for $250K

Posted

A former superintendent is suing the Apache Junction Unified School District over breach of contract, seeking $250,000 in compensation.

The complaint was filed March 30 with the clerk of the Pinal County Superior Court by Dennis K. Burke, Mark S. Kokanovich and Jillian L. Andrews of Ballard Spahr LLP on behalf of Dr. Chad Wilson, now superintendent of the East Valley Institute of Technology.

The complaint, a copy of which was emailed to Independent Newsmedia by Barrett Marson of Marson Media, is seeking:

  • $250,000 and attorney’s fees and costs for breach of contract — not to disparage, defame or besmirch the reputation, good character, image or services of Wilson; or
  • $250,000 and attorney’s fees and costs for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing from repeated disparaging comments from a board member; or
  • •An undeclared amount as the district was enriched at the expense of Wilson, including him forgoing the final year of his superintendent salary.

Wilson spent 17 years with AJUSD, the last eight — 2009 to 2017 — as superintendent.

He was hired as an assistant superintendent at EVIT, a public career technical education district that provides career training to high school students and adults in 11 East Valley communities, including Apache Junction, Mesa and Queen Creek. In 2019 he was promoted to interim superintendent and later that year as superintendent.

In January 2020, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office agreed to dismiss without prejudice charges against Wilson. An Arizona State Grand Jury in 2019 had accused Wilson of theft, a class 2 felony, and three counts of misuse of public monies, class 4 felonies, according to an Arizona Superior Court indictment at the time. He had been accused of misusing public funds while at AJUSD, including authorizing performance pay (May 1, 2012-May 31, 2016), professional-development instruction compensation (Nov. 1, 2015-April 30, 2017) and paying for athletic-event attendance (Sept. 1, 2015-July 31, 2016) — all for district administrators — without AJUSD Governing Board approval, according to the indictment.

Leaving AJUSD

Three years prior to the indictment and subsequent dismissal of the charges — in December 2016 — the AJUSD Governing Board entered into a settlement agreement with Wilson to discontinue his employment a year early, effective June 30, 2017.

The agreement required Wilson to submit a letter of resignation, after which he would continue to receive compensation for the remainder of his employment contract, through June 30, 2018, the complaint filed with Pinal County Superior Court states.

In May 2017, Wilson began a dialogue with the board about the approval process of certain defined and limited benefits provided to administrators. Wilson noted any and all benefits provided to administrators were indeed approved by the board in their approval of the budget, continuing a process that was instituted by Wilson’s predecessor.

The board retroactively requested that any such benefits be delineated specifically by line, the complaint states.

“Because of this difference in opinion, the board directed the district counsel to draft a preliminary statement of charges concerning Dr. Wilson. This statement of charges was never brought to a public vote but was instead shared with Dr. Wilson as a method to negotiate a severance agreement and for leverage in such negotiations,” the complaint states.

On May 15, 2017, outside counsel for the district sent a letter to Wilson with the stated purpose of providing him “an opportunity to work in collaboration with the board to sever the employment relationship without the need for legal action,” it states.

At a meeting on June 26, 2017, the governing board approved a severance agreement with Wilson in which he agreed to voluntarily forgo salary due to him and the district released any and all claims it may have against Dr. Wilson, according to the complaint.

“The executed severance agreement contained: 1) a restriction on disparaging the other party; 2) standards for professional references, including incorporating by reference a glowing letter by the board of Dr. Wilson’s performance as superintendent for the district; 3) a restriction on initiating claims, lawsuits or any other legal proceeding against the other; 4) and a release of claims by the employer,” it states.

The complaint filed with the Pinal County Superior Court alleges an AJUSD governing board member “viciously disparaged Dr. Wilson and wrongfully implied that because she dissented from the board’s assent to the severance agreement, she could not only ignore it, but defy it” and “proceeded to lobby and mislead an Arizona state senator to seek an investigation of Dr. Wilson’s tenure at the district, a direct breach of the district’s agreement with Dr. Wilson.”

Later, the complaint states, “Dr. Wilson underwent the most harrowing experience any innocent person can be forced to weather — being charged of criminal offenses for doing his job. The district did this to Dr. Wilson in direct violation of its contractual obligations” and “After expending considerable financial resources and untold hours of distraction, Dr. Wilson was relieved of his nightmare when the Arizona Attorney General’s Office agreed to drop the charges against him.”

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