Milton School District to pay $12K in legal costs in Garrow resignation

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Neil Johnson
Saturday, January 5, 2013

— The Milton School District spent more than $12,000 in legal fees during an investigation of Superintendent Mike Garrow's conduct, according to a Gazette evaluation of district records.

Fallout from the investigation led to Garrow's resignation in November.

According to legal invoices, the district was billed:

-- $2,669 for an October 2012 investigation by Fennimore law firm Kramer and Brownlee of staff complaints that Garrow had improperly fraternized with staff and used a district computer to show colleagues a photo of a nude or scantily-clad woman. Although the photo apparently never surfaced during the investigation and Garrow denies it was inappropriate, the investigator found that it was "possibly inappropriate."

The investigation took just under 16 hours, according to the invoice. It also determined that complaints about Garrow's social conduct were unfounded.

-- $9,500 in legal fees from board attorney Shana Lewis to negotiate proposed "disciplinary" measures and ultimately, Garrow's paid extended leave, resignation and severance.

Those costs include $1,069 in work by Lewis to field open records requests from local media seeking details of Garrow's leave, according to an invoice.

On top of those legal costs, the district has agreed to pay Garrow his full salary of $122,000 to remain on leave the rest of the school year, along with a severance agreement which pays Garrow $35,000, but crops off the second year of his two-year contract.

Meanwhile, the district must begin looking for a new superintendent, and it's paying Milton schools Principal Theresa Rusch an extra $20,000 to be interim superintendent.

The costs all came as the district was scrambling to bolster staffing at its elementary schools, some of which have had class sizes that have swelled to as many as 29 students—and amid hints by the board that it could propose a spending referendum later this year.

Garrow's absence from the district started Oct. 12 after he was put on "approved leave" while complaints about Garrow's conduct that had surfaced early in October were investigated.

School board members met in closed session five times in October and November.

The board did not publicly talk about Garrow's leave, and board president Rob Roy said the board did not discuss the leave until a closed session Nov. 12, when it unveiled an agreement allowing Garrow to get paid the rest of the school year while he stayed at home.

According to work invoices from Lewis, the board's human resources committee had a closed session discussion Nov. 2 about the board's investigation of Garrow's conduct and undisclosed "discipline."

That meeting cost the district $1,300 in legal fees, according to the invoice.

It's not clear what came out of that meeting, and the board has declined to give details. A legal invoice shows Garrow's attorney and the board were in talks over Garrow's resignation as early as Nov. 5.

A month later, the board disclosed Garrow was resigning and being paid a $35,000 severance.

The announcement came after three open records requests by The Gazette and a Gazette editorial that threatened legal action.

In a Dec. 14 news release, the district wrote that after the investigation it had given Garrow a "formal" employee improvement plan as a condition of his return to work for the district, but Garrow said he wouldn't consent to the terms of that plan.

The board and Garrow then began severing its ties with Garrow, the district wrote.

Roy and board member Bob Cullen said the board had proposed an improvement plan for Garrow, but it was never formalized.

Despite repeated open records requests by The Gazette, the board has given no details about what behavior the investigation or any other talks yielded that justified the board giving Garrow an employee improvement plan.

Garrow's spring 2012 review was satisfactory, and the board extended his contract two years.

Roy declined comment when asked if he or the board would explain the proposed terms of Garrow's improvement plan.

In an email to The Gazette, Roy wrote that as part of Garrow's resignation, the district and the board agreed it "may not make comments derogatory of Dr. Garrow."

"Therefore, I choose not to respond to any further questions on this matter," Roy wrote.

Roy suggested The Gazette's continued pursuit of details of Garrow's resignation only serves to reopen wounds the district had hoped it could begin healing. Roy said members of the public have told him they want the district to move on.

"I can tell you that no one I have talked with in the community since your last story has asked for more information. They have all commented that they are glad this is behind us and that the district can finally move forward. I wish you would do the same.

"I have talked with well over 100 people over the holidays, and their wish to move forward must be respected," Roy wrote.

Last updated: 8:06 am Monday, April 29, 2013

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