Two of three former USD 457 teachers at risk of losing their teaching licenses for breaching employment contracts have sought aid from third parties in their attempts to stop the process before it reaches a state hearing.
On Aug. 20, the district’s Board of Education voted to instruct board counsel Randy Grisell to file complaints with the Kansas State Board of Education Professional Practices Commission, or PPC, to request the suspension of former USD 457 teachers Amanda Brook Trenkle, Courtney Morris and Erin Marshall’s teaching licenses for the remainder of the 2018-19 school year. Superintendent Steve Karlin has said previously that this is the first time the district has moved forward with this process.
The three teachers resigned after the district’s June 1 deadline and did not return to work at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year when no replacements could be found in time, breaking with the 2017-18 negotiated agreement that Grisell said all district teachers were held to. The PPC will hold a hearing, potentially not for several months, where district representatives and teachers can state their cases, after which the PPC will make a recommendation to the Kansas Board of Education, which will make final rulings.
Grisell would not disclose whether he had filed the complaints yet.
Labor consultant LaRae Munk is representing Brook Trenkle, whose resignation was received Aug. 13, two days before the district’s first full day of school and shortly after her husband, former Garden City Community College men's basketball coach Brady Trenkle, accepted a job in Ohio. Trenkle said she had no intention to file litigation against the district, but wanted to protect her professional reputation.
Trenkle said on Monday that she hand-delivered identical letters to Karlin and Board of Education President Mark Rude that ask the board to drop its complaint with the state.
“The best-case scenario would be that they (the board) reconvene and meet and decide that filing these complaints is not in their best interest and let it go. And just let us go,” Trenkle said.
The letter points to several concerns leading to this request. She said she was disheartened that she learned about the board’s decision from a Telegram reporter instead of the district. She said seeking license suspension felt retaliatory and like the district “(wanted) to punish” her because she “(chose) her family as a priority.”
She points to an administration regulation regarding the PPC that states that “If the investigation reveals a settlement provision or liquidated damages clause in local board policy or in the contract of the employee, so that the employee could make a financial settlement to a local district governing authority or be relieved of contractual commitment by other agreed means, the case shall be dismissed by the commission.”
Munk said she thought the state’s clear language didn’t leave room for exceptions and that because USD 457’s 2017-18 negotiated agreement does include a liquidated damages clause, the cases would be dismissed.
“It’s not like there’s an option. The commission will dismiss it. So why is the district doing this? It makes no sense,” Munk said.
Grisell disagreed with the interpretation, saying because the negotiated agreement required the additional condition of a secured suitable replacement on top of liquidated damages to release a teacher that resigned late from their contract, the circumstances were not so cut and dry.
Trenkle’s letter also asks how she could be held to a 2018-19 contract she did not sign. Trenkle, Morris, Marshall and the majority of the district’s employees continuing contracts were renewed in April. Grisell said the annually signed contracts dictated an employee’s salary and how many days an employee would work, rather than commitment to the position, which was assumed after the renewal unless the employee were otherwise released.
Trenkle and Morris said they wish they would have been told when the board would consider requesting action against their licenses, which happened during an closed session called to discuss personnel issues, so they could present their side at last week’s meeting. The board holds closed sessions for personnel reasons often, and Karlin said subjects of the closed meetings had never been notified before.
Rude said he appreciated Trenkle’s letter and was confident the board would consider it. He said he was surprised at her accounts of little communication between the district and the teachers regarding the decision, but was curious about some of Trenkle’s misconceptions about her contract.
“The letter just begs for additional information, so I expect (the board will) deal with that, hopefully, basically line by line. I’m not sure what it will change. It’s just some detail with that particular employee. I’m glad she’s communicating. Man, I wish it could have happened earlier. That’s what we’re all about. We can’t afford to not communicate as far as district and staff,” Rude said.
Regardless, he still saw Trenkle's decision as a breach of contract and as a personal choice, and said Trenkle’s claims of retaliation were ridiculous.
Karlin said it would not be appropriate for him to comment on Trenkle’s letter or her concerns about her license because it was a personnel matter.
Morris, who resigned June 27 after GCCC offered her a teaching position two days before, said she reached out to the Kansas National Educators Association after hearing of the board’s decision. She has been working with Justin Smith, director of the KNEA Southwest UniServ, who said the organization was offering Morris legal advice and preparing her for the PPC hearing.
Smith points to minutes of a USD 457 Board of Education special meeting on June 28, which consisted only of a consent agenda, that mark Morris’ resignation as approved.
Morris and Trenkle said Deputy Superintendent Heath Hogan called them after they resigned, explaining the liquidated damages and suitable replacement provisions and that the district could take action against their licenses if they did not return to work. Morris said she saw in the board minutes that the board had approved her resignation and thought she was released from her contract.
“I assumed everything was fine. I figured that if there was anything else, I would be contacted,” Morris said.
Karlin and Grisell provided copies of an addendum To The Telegram approved at the meeting that actually recommends the board not approve Morris’ resignation until a suitable replacement is found, and Karlin said the discrepancy in the minutes was a clerical error. Karlin provided to The Telegram an email Board Clerk Stephanie DeLoach sent all board members on June 28, which contained amended meeting materials including the addendum. Smith said he would direct lawyers to the addendum, but currently said he found the existing minutes legally binding.
“We don’t want it to go to a hearing because we honestly don’t think it should be… A person would go forward with that fact that ‘Hey, my resignation was accepted. I met the legal requirements. I resigned, they accepted, I move on.’ That’s, again, where we stand, and that’s how I see it,” Smith said.
Karlin said he could not comment on Morris’ concerns because it was a personnel matter.
JoAnn Mangan, president of the local KNEA chapter, the Garden City Educators Association, said employees should read the terms they agreed to and that the three teachers should have stayed and finished out their contracts. She said the GCEA would help member teachers make the best choices possible for them, but the board’s choice was supported by the negotiated agreement and she stood by that.
Marshall resigned July 9. She has not responded to a request for comment.
Regarding responses to the board’s decision, Karlin echoed his earlier statements, saying that not having a fully licensed teacher present in Trenkle, Morris and Marshall’s positions was not beneficial to students and placed a burden on their former colleagues.
“We value all of our teachers … and this (decision) supports all of our teachers,” he said.
Contact Amber Friend at firstname.lastname@example.org.