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School Board calls for dismissal of suit

Susan Prasse

(2/23) A formal complaint was filed in Adams County Court of Common Pleas by three residents and three school board members, against the remaining five Fairfield Area School Board members. The complaint alleges violations of the Pennsylvania Public School Code and the Sunshine Act. They are requesting that board actions leading up to the voluntary resignation of Superintendent Bill Chain be rescinded.

Filing the complaint were Apryl Huster, Sara Laird, and Rhonda Myers and board members Lonny Whitcomb, Pam Mikesell, and Marcy Van Metre. They contend that during executive session, five board members discussed a severance agreement for Superintendent Bill Chain without knowledge of the full board.

In itís response to the Court, the School Boardís lawyer noted that the plaintiffs' petition was profoundly flawed, both procedurally and substantively, and called for the suit to be dismissed with prejudice for failure to comply with law, failure to state claims upon which relief can be granted, and failure to join a necessary party.

The School Board response noted that contrary to the law, Mr. Chain's absence as a party to the original suit precluded the Court from granting the relief the Plaintiffs requested. In response to the alleged violation of the Sunshine Act, the Board noted that Mr. Chain tendered his voluntary and irrevocable resignation, which was accepted at the open public meeting of the Fairfield Area Board of School Directors held on December 1, 2014, thus rendering the notice requirement (the basis for the Sunshine violation charge) moot. Moreover, in his letter of resignation, Mr. Chain stated, "I acknowledge and agree that the School Board is not required to provide me further public notice."

Read the full School Board response to the suit

In other board news, a settlement of a tax assessment appeal by Knouse Foods Cooperative Inc. was approved. The district will reimburse $100,992 in taxes paid in 2009 and 2010 on the companyís properties in Hamiltonban and Highland townships. Caroline Dean, the business manager for Fairfield School District stated that the amount is slightly more than two yearsí worth of property tax from the Knouse properties within the school district and that the district had budgeted for the probable settlement.

Several citizens expressed encouragement for the board to refund the settlement immediately. Sean Jones said "letís fix the problem now and move on." The board also approved Dean to recommend a public sale option or a sealed bid for the district to move forward on the sale of a six acre plot at 5144 Fairfield Road, or what is referred to as the McDannell property. In earlier meetings, the board had decided that the location of the property, in addition to other issues, made it unlikely that they could use the land currently or for future growth.

The public also voiced concerns regarding delays in hiring a middle school office aide and wanted to know about recent support staff transfers. Acting Superintendent Karen Kugler explained during the meeting that aide positions work 6-hour days, this schedule left part of the school day without staff.

"In order to make sure the office is covered during school hours, high school and business office secretary, Brenda Miller transferred and is now the middle school secretary" said Kugler. Miller will undergo Crisis Prevention training, which was a requirement when the board voted to fill the middle school aide position.

Kugler said that Miller's position will not be filled but she is working with Dean to modify the job description for the assistant to the business manager to ensure that Dean's office has the administrative support it needs. Laura Blubaugh, who is currently in the position will retire on April 10.

The board will next meet in regular session on March 9.

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