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Potential for legal suit by Andrews depends on what he said

By Kevin Kelley

Fairview Park

If Geoffrey Andrews, the Fairview Park Board of Education’s original choice to be the next superintendent, misrepresented his employment history, why doesn’t the board simply terminate his contract?

Andrews’ application, submitted in March, stated he was the director of the Western Academy of Beijing. However, a letter published on the school’s website in August 2013 announced that Andrews was no longer director of the school.

Kathy LaSota, the Ohio School Boards Association consultant hired to assist with the superintendent search, said Andrews made some “vague references” about some problems with his current employer in early April, before negotiations on his contract began. And school board President Joe Shucofsky said that Andrews alluded to some problems the day after he was hired.

Andrews has declined to speak on the matter, saying he had an agreement with the district not to comment until their differences are resolved or it’s clear no resolution can be reached.

Was Andrews’ apparent misrepresentation on his submitted application enough to justify the termination of his contract?

“It depends,” said David Carney, a professor of law at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Law, with whom West Life discussed the Andrews situation.

Carney, who served on the board of education for the Cleveland Municipal School District, said he couldn’t make a clear legal call without knowing more about what Andrews said to both Shucofsky and LaSota.

Another important factor, Carney said, is what exactly led the Western Academy of Beijing to remove Andrews as its director.

If that school kept Andrews in some sort of consultant role, to allow him to remain in China on a work visa so a family member could complete schooling there, that could mitigate the legal harm of his misrepresentation, Carney said.

Carney said it’s not unusual for such consultants to have signed confidentiality agreements. Both Shucofsky and LaSota quoted Andrews as saying he was not at liberty to discuss the specifics of whatever issues he was having at the Western Academy of Beijing.

“The question comes down to how material a misrepresentation he made and how important it was to the board’s decision to offer employment,” Carney explained.

The Fairview Park school board could argue the misrepresentation was significant enough to justify termination, Carney said. But, the law professor added, Andrews could counter that, in the larger scheme of things, his status during his final year in Beijing wasn’t that important.

Carney acknowledged that if he were a member of the Fairview Park school board, he would be angry about Andrews’ apparent deception and suspicious of him.

The fact that Andrews had stated he was still the Western Academy of Beijing’s director in his application to the Kenston Local Schools, submitted nearly simultaneous to his Fairview Park application, bolsters Fairview Park’s case for termination.

However, Carney said roughly 95 percent of all serious legal disputes are settled out of court.

“It’s nearly always better for both sides to settle rather than spend a great deal of money on legal expenses for an absolute win,” Carney said.

At the most recent public school board meeting on July 15, Shucofsky said attorneys representing the district were still in negotiations with Andrews’ lawyer regarding a settlement.

Even if Andrews sued the district and lost, the district would be unlikely to recover its attorneys fees, Carney said.

Carney briefly reviewed Andrews’ contract with the district and said nothing stood out as unusual to him. He said it would have been unusual for such a contract to have a morals clause, the violation of which would justify termination.

According to state law, a school board must have “good and just cause” to terminate the contract of a superintendent, or any teacher. However, “good and just cause” is not defined. A school board must give said person 10 days’ notice before taking action on the contract, and the person may then request an arbitration hearing. If the employee in question loses in the hearing, he or she may appeal the termination to the common pleas court.

When questioned early last week, Shucofsky declined to say if the board had given Andrews any such notice.

The board has an executive session meeting scheduled for today, and a public meeting scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday at the board offices at 21620 Mastick Road. According to the meeting notice, the purpose is “to take action on personnel and other business related items.”

Shucofsky would not confirm a report that the board had settled on a local education administrator to be its interim superintendent, nor would he specifically address whether an interim leader will be named at Thursday’s meeting. He had previously indicated an interim leader would be in place by Aug. 1.

“I can tell you that we are extremely hopeful of making a successful leadership transition very soon,” Shucofsky said.

 

 

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