MIDDLEBURY — Former Addison Central Supervisory Union Superintendent Lee Sease has filed a lawsuit against his former employer in U.S. District Court, claiming he was unlawfully fired last spring.
Sease further claims he was not given reasons for his termination and alleges he was not given a chance to be heard on the matter. He is urging the court to award him damages, including lost wages and benefits. Sease received a total annual compensation package (salary and benefits) of $127,321, according to court records.
The foundation of Sease’s eight-page complaint, filed on March 20, appears to hinge on the date by which he was supposed to receive notice of the ACSU board’s intent not to renew his contract for the 2011-2012 academic year.
And that’s where it gets confusing.
One clause in Sease’s contract specifies that “unless notified otherwise by a majority vote of the ACSU board before town meeting of the first year of this contract, said contract will automatically extend an additional year beyond that which is stipulated.”
Sease’s contract covered July 1, 2009, to June 30, 2011.
Town Meeting Day in the first year of the contract (July 1, 2009 to June, 30, 2010) was therefore Tuesday, March 2, 2010, Sease noted in his complaint.
“At no time prior to Town Meeting Day, 2010, did defendant give plaintiff notice that defendant or a majority of the board did not intend to extend the contract for an additional year as provided by the contract,” reads Sease’s complaint.
Sease acknowledges in the lawsuit that he received a letter on March 15, 2010, a letter from the ACSU board stating the board did not intend to renew or extend his contract beyond June 30, 2011, but the letter included a caveat that “a final decision will not be made by the ACSU board until such a time as we have considered the (administrative office) climate review currently under way, and any other information that may come before the board.”
Meanwhile, the ACSU board is pointing to a different clause in the former superintendent’s contract. That clause states that “the employee whose contract is not to be renewed will be so informed in writing no later than March 15 of the contract year.”
Records show that then-ACSU board Chairwoman Carol Ford formally notified Sease of the board’s intent not to renew his contract in a letter dated March 15, 2011.
“We were interpreting (the notification date) one way, he was interpreting it the other,” said current ACSU board Chairman Mark Perrin.
“It would have been nice to have a cleaner contract, for sure,” he added.
While a federal judge will have to sort out which deadline the ACSU board was obligated to meet, it seems clear that the panel had decided weeks prior to the March 15, 2011, letter that it was not going to bring Sease back for another year.
The ACSU board on Feb. 9, 2011, voted 22-2 to affirm a 2010 decision to not renew or extend Sease’s contract. Court documents show Ford sent a letter to Sease on Feb. 9, 2011, disclosing that vote.
Still, Sease’s attorney, Rutland-based Alan Biederman, is confident his client will prevail based on the March 2, 2010, deadline.
“In terms of contract breach, I don’t think it’s even a close case,” Biederman said. “We think the law is clear… His contract was automatically extended on March 2 (2010).”
As far as compensation, Sease is seeking the difference between what he is now earning and what he would have earned during another years as ACSU superintendent. Biederman said his client is currently employed in academia, but at a lesser salary than he would have earned with the ACSU. According to the Vermont Technical College website, Sease is currently the “learning specialist” at the Randolph college.
The ACSU’s insurance carrier will be organizing the district’s legal defense against Sease’s lawsuit, according to ACSU interim Superintendent Gail Conley.
Sease served as ACSU superintendent for seven years, leaving on June 30 of last year. His future with the ACSU came under increasing focus in 2009 and 2010 amid reports of discord between top administrators in the ACSU office. Sease was often at loggerheads with Associate Superintendent Jan Willey — who is leaving her post in June — and former Business Manager Sharon Stearns, who resigned last year claiming — among other things — that she had been bullied by Sease and then placed on administrative leave after she complained about his behavior. Stearns last Sept. 13 filed a lawsuit in Rutland County Superior Court against the ACSU in connection with her departure.
An ACSU subcommittee is in the midst of its second search to find a new superintendent. The first search fizzled in February without producing an acceptable candidate. The subcommittee is working to identify a second round of finalists by the sometime next week.
At the same time, the district is soliciting applicants for the Willey’s job, which she will leave June 30. Officials want the new superintendent to have a role in picking his or her second in command.
A search of the classified ads section of this newspaper reveals the ACSU is also seeking applications for the positions of “associate director of student services,” and “administrative assistant, purchasing agent and coordinator of special projects.”
Sources indicate the ACSU’s technology director resigned earlier this month, and the district will also be looking for an administrator to support Middlebury Union Middle School interim Principal Patrick Reen. Reen recently took over for longtime Principal Inga Duktig, who resigned suddenly on March 9 citing “personal and professional reasons.” Duktig had one year left on her contract and will be paid for the balance of this school year, according to Conley.
Sources indicate Duktig’s departure after more than 12 years was not entirely amicable. The Addison Independent was informed by credible sources that many MUMS teachers were considering a vote of no confidence on Duktig.
The Independent was provided with an email from the Middlebury Education Association (the teachers union) dated March 9 informing union members of Duktig’s resignation. The email, among other things, wished Duktig and Reen well, but also stated, “MUMS teachers — you deserve a tremendous amount of credit for maintaining your professionalism and focus while still expressing your views so courageously. You really stand as an inspiring example of how powerful people can be when they standup together to improve the conditions around them.”
John Flowers is at [email protected]