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Board member maintains Gardner-Edgerton superintendent firing illegal

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GARDNER, KS (KCTV) -

Questions are being raised about the procedures used by four Gardner-Edgerton school board members in firing the district's superintendent and two of his top administrators.

One board member contends the firing was illegal and violated state law and violated the superintendent's due process rights. Board member James Repshire said "a very grievous injustice" has been done, and there was no wrong doing on the part of any of those fired.

A divided board voted 4-3 last Thursday night to immediately terminate the contract for Superintendent Bill Gilhaus and administrators Christy Ziegler, executive director of educational services, and Lana Gerber, executive director of administrative services.

The four and the district's attorney are refusing to say whether the four board members followed the procedures outlined in Gilhaus' contract for terminating him.

But Gilhaus himself and a board member who opposed the terminations are raising questions about whether due process was given to Gilhaus.

The district had to provide notice by March 1 that they were not renewing the contract. The contract only allowed for three reasons to terminate the superintendent. They were the district becoming insolvent, incapacity by Gilhaus due to illness or accident or misconduct.

The misconduct had to be "seriously prejudicial to the operations of the district, including but not limited to neglect of duty or refusal to comply with legally valid, duly approved directives of the board."

To use this reason, the district had to first give written notice of the proposed grounds for termination and an opportunity for the board to speak in private as to why he did not engage in misconduct and why the contract should not be terminated.

"Prior to termination of either party due to a breach of this contract, written notice of the breach shall by given to the party alleged to be in breach, and a reasonable opportunity must be afforded for the breach to be cured."

Instead, Gilhaus maintains he was blind sided and not afforded the basic procedures outlined in his contract. 

He said he was told Tuesday that three board members were seeking a special board meeting Thursday.

"In spite of the counsel by the school district's attorney to do so, no purpose or agenda for the meeting was provided to the full membership of the board or to me as superintendent," Gilhaus said in a statement issued over the weekend.

The board discussed firing Gilhaus and the administrators for about 90 minutes before board member Rob Shippy made the motion, which was seconded by Tresa Boden. Others supporting it were Mary Nelson and Brad Chandler. Opposing were Mark Grannell, Mary Herbert and Repshire who objected to the nature of the meeting.

Gilhaus hasn't indicated whether he will seek legal action, but he believes his due process rights were violated.

"No means of due process and no cause of separation was provided," he said. "This action came only two weeks after I received a very favorable annual evaluation. It must also be noted that my evaluations for the last 10 years have been equally favorable."

Joe Hartley, a private attorney who represents the school board, declined comment on the advice that he gave board members, citing attorney-client privilege.

One board member believes the meeting violated Kansas law.

Repshire, the board vice president, said the three board members who called the meeting repeatedly refused to given information about the nature of the special meeting despite requests from Grannell, who is the board's president.

"The entire board was informed by the school district's attorney in an e-mail prior to the meeting and in open session at the beginning of the meeting, if any member objected to the agenda for the meeting, any action that was taken in regard to discussion in executive session would violate Kansas statutes regarding rules for special sessions," Repshire said in a statement issued over the weekend.

Repshire and Grannell objected to approving the agenda. Because of those objections and the advice from attorney Joe Hatley, "I contend the actions taken were illegal," Repshire said.

In addition, he said, "The action taken was grievous injustice to the three individuals whose employment was terminated."

Last week, Shippy said the decision was the right one.

"We're looking forward to moving forward in a positive direction," he said. He added that the district will continue to "offer the same education services we have."

Repshire said he takes issue with Shipp's claim that the terminations were done with cause.

"Not only do I dispute those claims, I refuse those claims," he said. "That statement is a personal statement claimed by Mr. Shippy, not a board statement. "There was and is no cause on the part of three individuals affected for these erroneous errors. I would like to again state my extreme displeasure for this grievous injustice that has been done."

Repshire wanted to speak on camera to KCTV5 this week, but Hatley advised against it. He said he wanted to reiterate that the three fired were exemplary employees who had set high standards for academic achievement. He said the three should not have been fired.

KCTV5's Erika Tallan, Bonyen Lee and Amy Anderson contributed to this report.

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