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Sunnyside principal, schools reach $175,000 settlement
MARYSVILLE After an internal investigation, the Marysville School District Board of Directors on June 25 reached an agreement with former Sunnyside Elementary School Principal Jane Colson, who had been on administrative leave since February.
Colson resigned and will receive at least $175,000 in compensation from the district.
The district's inquiry stemmed from an incident in August 2007 during which Colson allegedly slapped a Sunnyside teacher on the shoulder. In a written summary of the investigation, district Human Resources Director Terry Brandon stated he was "unable to prove or disprove the allegation."
Colson could not be reached for comment, but in his report, Brandon said Colson denied the allegation. At the same time, the report contained numerous complaints about Colson that Brandon said were culled from Sunnyside staffers.
In a separate document, school Superintendent Larry Nyland mentioned "staff reports of unfair treatment, lack of respect and feelings of fear."
In part, according to Brandon's report, staffers described Colson as someone who is "frequently angry and swears."
"Most teachers indicated they were terrified when Ms. Colson came into their room," the report states at one point.
Colson was given a chance to respond to the complaints and, according to Brandon's report, denied or explained each. In writing, and in comments made to The Globe, Nyland, however, contends Colson allegedly violated district directives in at least one sense.
Specifically, Nyland said Colson evaluated teachers at least partly based on their use of the district's new literacy guidelines. Nyland said officials had wanted to give teachers a chance to get to know and become accustomed to those guidelines.
"These are not dismissible issues," Nyland said.
Nyland added officials talked about disciplining and reassigning Colson, but in the end that did not seem practical. He said departure from the district was something both sides agreed was the best solution.
Both Nyland and Colson's attorney, Mitch Cogdill, talked about the possibility of a lawsuit being filed against the district. Nyland cited the possible cost of fighting any lawsuit as one reason officials decided on the settlement agreement with Colson. He estimated the potential costs of a suit at between $50,000 and $70,000, amounts that are less than what the district will pay thanks to the settlement agreement. But Nyland also contended money was not the only deciding factor.
"It's not a decision we took lightly," he said.
For example, Nyland talked about the awkwardness of having a principal with a pending lawsuit against the district working in a district building. By law, he added, any transfer of Colson would need to have been lateral. In other words, the district would have had to name her principal of another building.
For his part, Cogdill criticized the district's investigation, which he said stemmed from an incident "that in all likelihood did not occur," referring to Colson's alleged slap of a Sunnyside teacher.
Among other complaints, Cogdill contends the incident wasn't reported until six months after it allegedly took place. He also argued the district should have been able to find some definitive witnesses to the event as it allegedly took place in a room containing some 30 or 40 school staffers.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Cogdill took issue with a letter made public after the allegations were made. In essence, Cogdill maintains the letter did not give Colson the benefit of the doubt and seemed to presume her guilt even before any investigation was complete.