Friday, January 3, 2014

Schools lawsuit was settled

Superintendent contract was terminated


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

    The Blaine County School District board of trustees got rid of a sticky multimillion lawsuit in 2013, terminated the contract of Superintendent Lonnie Barber and saw the seating of two new board members.
    Trustee Kathy Baker won her seat on the board in May by defeating then board Chair Steve Guthrie. Trustee Elizabeth Schwerdtle was appointed to her position in July following the resignation of former Trustee Don Nurge.
    Baker never publicly stated her opposition to extending Barber’s contract, but Schwerdtle, prior to becoming a board member, publicly urged against the extension in March.
    But termination came at a price, with Barber agreeing to leave for a settlement of $600,000.
    Neither the board nor Barber provided precise answers as to why the contract was terminated. Board members would only say that it was because of a difference in leadership philosophy and style.
    Assistant Superintendent John Blackman is serving as interim superintendent while a nationwide search is underway for a permanent replacement. The school board hopes to have a new superintendent in place by the start of the 2014 school year.

McKinstry lawsuit
    Barber’s termination came only a few weeks before a settlement was reached in litigation between the district and its energy contractor, Seattle-based McKinstry Essention.
    The dispute stemmed from a contract the parties entered into in 2010 for energy savings performance work and other improvements at eight district schools and facilities. McKinstry had claimed in court filings that the company had performed work worth about $26 million and was seeking an unpaid balance of about $7 million. The district, on the other hand, claimed in response that it had authorized work worth only $18.6 million and was seeking damages of at least that amount.
    Most observers agree that the district came out on top in the settlement, with McKinstry dropping almost its entire claim for additional money, agreeing to pay $800,000 in district legal fees and to financially guarantee $9.5 million in energy savings over the next 25 years from the work performed.
Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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