A $525,000 settlement has been reached in the bitter feud between former Wellington Schools curriculum director Christopher Kamenski and the district.
The sum will be paid out to Kamenski and his lawyers over the next three years.
In addition to the financial pay-out, the Wellington Schools must pen a neutral letter of reference for Kamenski. And a reprimand written by former superintendent John Nolan, along with Kamenski’s 2012 and 2013 performance reviews, will be moved out of his personnel file.
Filed in 2014, the suit named Nolan and then-board members Joseph Calfo, Jacquie Dovin, and current board president Sally Stewart as defendants. Stewart’s name was dropped from the settlement with no explanation.
As part of the deal, none of the named parties can publicly comment on its terms.
But Wellington school board member Ayers Ratliff was irate last week in an open meeting and heatedly pointed a finger at the defendants.
“It really upsets me and makes me sad that one of our former employees hired to serve our students was done wrong,” he said. “You are voting tonight to pay him because he was done wrong. We must come to the realization he was treated wrongly by our former school board and our former superintendent.”
“I hope what comes our of this is the community realizes it’s important to pick and vote for good board members to serve our district. If we as a community continue to elect Sally Stewarts, Jaquie Dovins, and Joe Calfos to our school board we’ll be in this same position time after time after time,” Ratliff said.
Kamenski was hired in 2010. His suit, fought in U.S. District court the past two and a half years, alleged he had been harassed starting in December 2012.
During an administrators meeting that month, Nolan allegedly made comments about how Pat Ables, employed by the district as a paraprofessional, looked like “a bag lady” and instructed then-middle school principal Tim Simpson to start writing up Ables to “hit her in the pocketbook” in an attempt to end her employment, according to the suit.
Simpson followed Nolan’s instruction, “falsely casting Ms. Ables as an old, decripit lady,” it said.
Kamenski stepped in to defend Ables, and the following day Nolan started asking former employers about why Kamenski left, “with the intent of sabotaging” Kamenski’s job in Wellington, according to the lawsuit.
A majority of school board members turned on Kamenski, he said, and “Nolan found a way, through false disciplinary write-ups, to terminate Ms. Ables’ employment.” Kamenski helped her file a union grievance and testified on her behalf at an arbitration hearing; the arbitrator found Ables had been fired without just cause and ordered her job restored.
Meanwhile, Dovin told Nolan to be sure to give Kamenski a bad evaluation “so they can terminate him in a few months,” the suit said. Stewart later told district treasurer Suzanne Wilson to cut off communication with Kamenski and declared he had “mental issues.”
Just before Christmas in 2012, Nolan gave Kamenski an unsatisfactory performance review, in stark contrast to glowing reviews from previous years.
It came less than two months after Nolan had written a letter of recommendation for Kamenski saying he had “been so impressed with what (Kamenski) has brought to Wellington and has accomplished over the last two plus years. Having served as a superintendent in a neighboring district before retiring and coming to Wellington, I was aware of where Wellington was academically and am amazed at where at the district is today” (sic).
In a January 2013 meeting, Nolan allegedly referred to Kamenski as the “whipping boy” and told him, “If you want to play hardball with me you better strap it on.” Kamenski filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint several days later, and a formal district harassment complaint several days after that, but the board found it unsubstantiated. “In truth, no realistic investigation had been done,” the lawsuit said.
Another bad performance review came in June 2013 and Kamenski resigned at the end of the month, taking a job as curriculum director with the Mason Public Schools in Michigan.
Then an anonymous smear letter — which Kamenski contends was authored by Wellington officials — arrived at the Michigan district, urging “a complete and thorough mental health evaluation along with random drug testing” and warning not to “be fooled by this so-called Christian” lest the Mason Schools “become a victim like the rest.”
It also warned that Kamenski shouldn’t be allowed to handle funds and said Mason should consider rescinding his contract. Kamenski did lose his job there and has been unable to find work in the education field since. When we talked to him last year, he was waiting tables at a Florida restaurant.
“I just want to clear my name,” he told us at the time.
Ratliff took aim at the anonymous letter.
“These three board members planned at a school board meeting in executive session on July, 16, 2013, on how to ruin former school employee Chris Kamensky in his new job in Mason, Mich.,” he said during last week’s board meeting. “They planned and sent 25 letters to all Mason, Mich., school board members, administrators, and news media. This was truly appalling. The fact they accomplished their goal of ruining him in Mason, Mich., truly makes me sad. The fact they accomplished their goal of ruining him is why you’re voting to pay him tonight.”
Ratliff requested a “demand for payment” letter to be sent to Nolan, Calfo, Stewart, and Dovin — and said if they don’t help recoup the cost of the settlement the board of education needs to “go after the four of them in court to get our children’s money back.”
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @EditorHawk on Twitter. Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.