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Taking Back America By Taking Back Our Schools

Congratulations, Teacher Tim McKee! On appeal, the Superior Court of Arizona, Maricopa County, found that Tim was fired unfairly by the Peoria School Board; the Court then awarded Tim his attorney’s fees and costs. We guess Tim got his job back, which means there should be lots of back pay coming Tim’s way. Hurray!

What a phenomenal waste of public tax dollars! According to recent news reports, the Peoria School Board already had spent $1,060,861 on legal fees as of June 2013. It cost between $50,000-$75,000 to appeal the decision against the school board (that means this appeal, which they lost). Now the school board has lost twice and has been ordered to unfire Tim McKee and pay his attorney’s fees and costs of fighting for his professional reputation. Way back in January 2013, Tim’s attorney’s fees already were over $300,000. Tim won his public records lawsuit as well, with an award of $67,000 in fees the Peoria School District paid to Tim’s attorneys.

Through all of this, the Peoria School Board had a whole bunch of expensive lawyers, who apparently were telling board members that they should duke this out until the earth around teacher Tim McKee was well and truly scorched.  As Joe McCord, a board member who voted to fire McKee, remarked, “If we were to settle, that sets a precedent, and then other people ....” That same board member Joe McCord also remarked to the press, “What are we supposed to do? Just roll over and play dead?” Yeppers, the board and the administration couldn’t be seen talking to underlings like teachers because it would set a precedent of … what? Reasonableness? Best interests of students, perhaps?

With a bunch of lawyers salivating at billable hours, the superintendency and Peoria School Board decided to fire Tim McKee no matter what got in their way. Curiously, the Peoria School Board didn’t want to fire Tim’s teacher-colleague who was on the scene of the tragic accidental death of a student. Board member Kathy Knecht was the lone vote siding with McKee during his termination hearing. She said, “We’re facing the most difficult financial situation we’ve ever had, and having to divert any money from the classroom for any reason is not a good thing.” Kathy Knecht was a lone voice in the wilderness, the only board member who recognized that firing Tim McKee would harm the students of Peoria by diverting money from their classrooms. (Best interests of the students, my aster*sk!) Sigh, Kathy Knecht was in the same boat in Peoria that board member Staci Burk was paddling in Gilbert.

The student’s family had filed a Notice of Claim for more than $26 Million; the Peoria School District paid out an undisclosed settlement through Valley Schools Insurance Trust. Bonus points if you rememberValley Schools Insurance Trust has been the subject of a criminal investigation by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office for issues ranging from conflicts of interest to misuse of public funds. Bankrolling the defense for unjustly firing Tim McKee was just another misuse of public funds in the eyes of most reasonable people. When you have a big war chest of dollars taken from taxpayers, though, it might be hard not to spend other people’s money.

This grotesque saga orchestrated by the Peoria School Board and their go-to attorneys has been in the news since 2010. We wrote about it in February 2012, when the Peoria School District had spent more than $500,000 to unfairly fir.... Back then, we hoped to explain to Gilbert Public Schools that the actions of the Peoria School District had a lot in common with what was happening with Gilbert Public Schools bringing 20+ absurd allegations against a National Board Certified Teacher for reporting bullying and racial discrimination, among other whistleblower reports.

Before he was fired, McKee filed a notice of claim — a precursor to... That’s less than the amount of attorney’s fees the Peoria School Board has been ordered to pay for Tim McKee. As we have come to know is the common practice, the Peoria School Board did not respond to Tim’s claim, leading to a slew of lawsuits in which the Peoria School Board is now embroiled. As Arizona law requires, Sarah filed a notice of claim on GPS, like Tim did in Peoria. Sarah hoped she could talk to the Governing Board of Gilbert Public Schools and convince them to protect her students and fix the problems she had reported all the way up the GPS chain of command, and ultimately to the GPS superintendent Dave Allison. Instead of opening a channel of communications, GPS lawyers told board members to not even read Sarah’s notice of c.... The go-to lawyers and GPS superintendency must have twisted themselves into pretzels to rationalize that this was in the best interest of students. Sheeesh. In reality, all they did was circle those wagons … again.

Unlike Sarah, Tim McKee was given a hearing. The Peoria School Board decided to change the hearing officer’s findings of fact and fire Tim McKee in spite of the hearing officer’s recommendation that charges against Tim should be dropped. If you have been following what the Good Old Boys in GPS have done to a once-stellar school district, you will recognize the parallels. We use the word “parallels” cautiously, because there is not much in GPS that can be considered to occur within the “straight and narrow” lines of ethical behavior, but that’s a story for another day. The amazing thing, aside from the fact that Tim and Sarah were condemned on the same day one year apart (Tim: December 6, 2010 — Sarah: December 6, 2011) is that Tim McKee offered to settle from the very beginning. So did Sarah. But the Powers That Be would have no part of such a common-sense idea.

The full order is available here. Our smart birdies will notice the court proceedings are similar to Sarah’s experience in GPS.  Excerpts from the Court Order:

Timothy McKee asks this Court to review the action taken by the Board of the Peoria Unified School District in voting to dismiss him as a teacher. For the following reasons, this Court reverses the action of the Board.

 On May 12, 2010, McKee’s P.E. class was in the swimming pool at Ironwood High School. Because student J.P. was a beginning swimmer, McKee restricted J.P. to the shallow end. McKee heard a cry for help. McKee and [his colleague teacher] Allen went to the edge of the deep end of the pool where a student surfaced with J.P. At 11:33, Allen called 9-1-1. The Glendale Fire Department soon arrived and assumed medical control. J.P. died 2 days later.

The District and the Glendale Police Department investigated. The police interviewed McKee, Allen, and the students present in the pool at the time of the drowning. The Medical Examiner concluded the death was accidental, and that J.P. was unaccounted for approximately 30 seconds. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office did not charge McKee with any crime.

On August 4, 2010, McKee met with [school board attorney Mary Ellen] Simonson, who informed him of their investigation. McKee was then given an ultimatum—resign or be fired. McKee requested time to obtain an attorney. Once he had done so and the attorney offered to meet with Simonson, she refused.

 On August 17, McKee informed the Board he believed it was not in compliance with the Intergovernmental Agreement with the city and county regulations requiring lifeguards at its pool.

On August 24, McKee made a public records request to the District to assist him in determining whether to request a hearing on the charges. Because the District had not produced any documents by September 6, which was the deadline to request a hearing, McKee requested a hearing, which was then set for October 4. On September 9, McKee filed suit on his records request. The District did not make its final disclosure until October 3.

The hearing was on held October 4, 5, and 12. On November 24, the Hearing Officer issued his Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Recommended Decision, making 18 findings of fact and 19 conclusions of law. Those conclusions of law included the following:

17. Insufficient evidence exists in the record of this matter on which to conclude that Timothy McKee engaged in any unreasonable actions or ignored his professional responsibilities such that he created or perpetuated any harmful conditions which failed to protect the health and safety of students.

18. Insufficient evidence exists in the record of this matter on which to conclude that Timothy McKee violated any Governing Board policies on May 12, 2010. 19. Insufficient evidence exists in the record of this matter on which to conclude that Timothy McKee’s employment with the Peoria Unified School District should be terminated.

The Hearing Officer recommended that the Board find that McKee did not engaged in any unprofessional conduct or violate any of the Board’s policies. The Hearing Officer further recommended that the Board dismiss the Statement of Charges.

On December 6,2010, the Board held its meeting. The Board made six modifications to four of the Hearing Officer’s Findings of Fact. The Board then voted to dismiss McKee.

On review, McKee makes the following contentions:

A. The District denied McKee due process.

1. The Board was not an impartial tribunal.

a. The Board and the District are the same entity.
b. The Board predetermined the case
c. The Board was biased.

(1) At the time of dismissal, the Board was litigating a case against McKee.
(2) The Board has a direct pecuniary interest in the outcome of the hearing.

d. The Board did not adopt relevant policies until after the hearing.

e. The Board relied on evidence from outside the hearing.

f. The Board did not review the entire record before changing the findings of fact.

g. The Board never identified the policy, statute, or regulation it claimed McKee violated.

h. Two Board members based their decision on matters outside the scope of the Statement of Charges.

2. The Statement of Charges did not provide adequate notice.

3. The Board did not provide a written statement identifying the evidence upon which it relied or the reasons for its decision.

B. The dismissal process violated A.R.S. §§ 15–539 and 15–541.

1. The Statement of Charges did not comply with A.R.S. § 15–539(F).

2. The Statement of Charges did not comply with A.R.S. § 15–539(C).

3. The District never served the Statement of Charges on McKee.

4. The hearing was not held within the statutory time frame.

C. McKee is being held to a standard not recognized in Arizona.

D. McKee was subject to disparate treatment.

Both sides have provided to this Court authorities and arguments in support of their position. This Court concludes the authorities and arguments provided by McKee are well-taken, and this Court adopts those authorities and arguments in support of its decision.

Based on the foregoing, this Court concludes there was not substantial evidence to support the changes in the findings of fact made by the Board, and further concludes the Board’s actions were contrary to law, arbitrary and capricious, and an abuse of discretion. This Court further concludes McKee is entitled to costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED reversing and vacating the decision of the Board of the Peoria Unified School District.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED, by September 26, 2013, counsel for McKee shall submit to this Court a proposed form of Order for this Court’s signature.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED, if McKee would like this Court to award costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees, counsel for McKee shall submit to this Court a request and the necessary supporting documentation, and shall include in the proposed form of Order places for this Court to make an award of costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

In case you’re wondering, Tim’s attorneys are the wonderful trio of Kevin Koelbel, William Hobson and Kyle Shelton. Learn more about them here. They are legal warriors for justice, defenders of unfairly accused educators, and really, really great guys.

We’ll blog more about how school districts waste of millions of dollars of taxpayer funds in coming days. Chirp, chirp.

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