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Ousted charter school leader sues education officials

Published October 28, 2010 5:06 pm

Lawsuit • Meanwhile, her husband seeks election to State Board of Education.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Charter school founder Kim Coleman has renewed her legal quarrel with Utah education officials in a multimillion-dollar suit alleging that the State Charter School Board violated state and federal law in ousting her last year as director of West Valley City's Monticello Academy.

The board acted "maliciously" when it barred Coleman from serving Monticello in any capacity, according to Coleman's suit, filed Tuesday in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court. In formal findings issued in early 2009, the board found that Coleman failed to adequately provide special-education services and withheld pertinent information during a compliance review. Coleman, whose husband, Joel Coleman, hopes to be elected to the State Board of Education next week, alleges those findings have no basis in fact or law.

Named as defendants are Marlies Burns, director of charter schools in the State Office of Education; the office's lawyer, Carol Lear; charter board members Tom Morgan, Yolanda Francisco-Nez, Scott Smith, John Pingree and Tim Beagley; and former members Brian Allen and Julie Adamic.

Lear defended the process her office used to act against Coleman, but declined to address the specific allegations, which Lear had not seen as of Thursday, because they are now the basis of a lawsuit.

"The concerns about Monticello were handled by the [state charter school] board and our office just as we handle any concerns involving charter schools," Lear said. "We handle those concerns with a desire to help charter schools succeed. It was handled fairly, ironically with a desire to help Monticello stay viable."

At the time Coleman was ousted, parents of Monticello students had complained that families and teachers were leaving the school and Coleman was too closely tied to the governing board, which included her husband, also a school founder. The state falsely accused him of failing to recuse himself when the Monticello board voted to hire Coleman as director, according to the lawsuit.

Joel Coleman, a former West Valley City council member, is seeking a seat on the State Board of Education, which oversees the charter board and officials his wife is suing. The suit, filed a week before the Nov. 2 election, could create conflicts of interest for Joel Coleman should he beat Milton Witt for the District 9 seat.

But Joel Coleman said if elected, he will not participate in board discussions involving Monticello or his wife. He sees no problem with his involvement in general matters involving Lear, a central target in his wife's suit, and the charter school board.

"I have worked with a lot of professionals, some of whom I disagree with strongly," Joel Coleman said. "I'm uniquely qualified to make sure there is fair process for all the schools."

He said Monticello is not helping finance his wife's current lawsuit, although the school did help cover her past legal expenses when she was still a school official.

Coleman's 71-page suit contends the school thrived under her leadership. It seeks damages totalling more than $5 million under various causes of action, including libel, unlawfully removing her from her post, constitutional violations, and interference with family relations and economic opportunity. The suit seeks an injunction allowing her to resume her spot on the Monticello board and be eligible for employment at the school.

bmaffly@sltrib.com

Conflict of interest?

Monticello Academy founder Kim Coleman claims the Utah State Charter School Board violated her constitutional rights and state law in barring her from serving at the school. Meanwhile, her husband, Joel Coleman, is running for a seat on the State Board of Education, which oversees the charter board.