The Glasgow School Board was advised by its attorney this week to release to the media a claim made to the district’s insurance carrier by Superintendent Glenn Hageman.
The claim was discussed in executive session with the attorney, Mary Duncan, at a school board meeting on Oct. 4. The issue was simply listed on the agenda as “litigation report,” prompting a Freedom of Information inquiry from Stan Ozark, news director of KLTZ/KLAN.
In a letter to Ozark dated Oct. 21, Duncan said she had advised the trustees to close the meeting to discuss strategy for litigation that she said was filed against the district by Hageman. He said Tuesday in a telephone call with Ozark that he hasn’t actually filed suit. He wrote a letter to the insurers on July 26 headed “re: possible litigation/breach of contract/harassment/intimidation/age discrimination” because, he said, he felt obliged to inform the company.
Montana’s Freedom of Information Act states that “the mere threat of litigation does not trigger the right to close a meeting.” Duncan said, however, that the claim filed with the district’s insurer is not a threat, but a common first step in litigation.
“To have discussed the strategy to be pursued in responding to this claim in an open meeting would have had a detrimental effect on the District’s position in this litigation,” Duncan wrote.
The insurer has an obligation to review the claim and make a determination about it. School Board Chairman Dave Irving said that the finding is expected by next month. He said he would ask Duncan if it will be released to the public at that time.
Hageman’s claim concerns actions taken by the school board in January, May, June and July. When his contract and evaluation came up for review in January, he asked for a one-year extension of his contract to June 2013. The board voted not to extend the contract but it had a stipulation, a mid-year review. They said if they saw improvement by June they would extend the contract.
In his claim he said he thought it would be best to be evaluated by the old board, not the board with new members seated, so he and then-chairman Scott Cassel set the review for the May meeting. After he was again evaluated in executive session, the board voted 3-2 to extend the contract.
The newly elected board member, Patt Etchart, was then seated. She objected to being excluded from the votes and requested a special meeting to rescind all the votes taken at the regular meeting. The special meeting was held and all the votes were rescinded. Hageman then told the board they were in breach of contract.
The board unanimously re-approved all the votes except his contract, which was tabled until July 8. He was again evaluated, this time in open session at his request. The board voted 2-2 on the contract extension, with the new member Etchart abstaining, and the motion failed.
Hageman’s claim states that the second part of his lawsuit addresses harassment, intimidation and age discrimination that he says the board has shown for the past five years. He said examples will be in a brief from his counsel.