Co-principal offers Douglas County School District lump sum for civil payment |

Co-principal offers Douglas County School District lump sum for civil payment

by Scott Murphy, Staff Writer

After learning Douglas County school officials would garnish his wages, Scarselli Elementary Co-Principal Kirk Cunningham said Friday he will make a lump payment of more than $37,000 before next month.

Cunningham owes the district $37,596 in legal fees because of a “meritless” lawsuit filed against the district after it reassigned him to Gardnerville Elementary School from his job as principal of Jacks Valley Elementary School.

Cunningham, a co-principal at Scarselli Elementary School, said he will give the district a check for the entire amount “on or before (April 27).”

U.S. District Court papers show the district planned to garnish $4.60 per day from Cunningham’s wages until the debt was paid.

Cunningham filed a lawsuit against the district in March 1999 and claimed his due process rights were violated and he suffered emotional distress because of the transfer.

He termed the move a “demotion” and said it interfered with his contract.

District Business Services Administrator Rick Kester confirmed Friday Cunningham said he will pay the district a lump sum.

Cunningham said the amount is “relatively insignificant” compared to his estimate of $500,000 spent since Superintendent Pendery Clark’s tenure began in November 1992.

Kester disputed Cunningham’s figures and cited the district’s right to “vigorously defend itself” when lawsuits are filed. The actual cost is about $405,000, he said. Those figures do not include 1993 and 1994.

The legal bill is not a result of Clark’s being the district’s superintendent, Kester said.

“I don’t believe $57,000 a year (in legal fees) is out of line at all for a district with 900 employees and a $70 million annual budget,” he said.

Kester cited several expenditures, including arbitration and due process hearings for special education students, which would have occurred regardless of who was superintendent.

“We ought to be judged by how many of those cases we lose, not by how many are filed,” Kester said. The district should fight lawsuits “that we don’t believe we ought to have liability in. We owe that to the public.”

Defending its actions might seem expensive in the short term, Kester said, but it likely saves money in the long term because it possibly prevents other lawsuits.

Kester said he is unsure exactly how many suits the district has lost during Clark’s tenure, but it “isn’t very many.”

The amount Cunningham owes the district was reduced 20 percent by Judge David Hagen to $36,596. The judge called some of the time spent by the district’s lawyers “excessive.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.