Knezevich to sue district

Former principal seeks $400,000 as a result of termination

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Former Steamboat Springs High School Principal Mike Knezevich intends to sue the school district for $400,000.

The Steamboat Springs School Board spent 25 minutes in executive session Monday night discussing the pending suit. An intent to sue letter from Joan Bechtold, Knezevich's Denver-based attorney, states Knezevich was unfairly singled out for termination and seeks damages from lost wages. It also lists personal grievances against the three School Board members who voted against renewing his contract: President Robin Crossan, Vice President Denise Connelly and Laura Anderson.

The letter, dated Sept. 9, also sets a 10-day timeframe for the board to respond so the "matter can be resolved on an amicable basis."

Superintendent Shalee Cunningham said the closed session ended with "no decisions and no directives to me," but she would not otherwise comment on the issue.

The School Board voted 3-2 to not renew Knezevich's contract during a June 9 meeting after an unfavorable review by former interim superintendent Sandra Smyser.

In the lawsuit, Knezevich claims Smyser's review was unfair because she "had minimal direct contact with Mr. Knezevich during the review period, and had little to no first-hand knowledge of his job performance."

Knezevich alleges the School Board violated Colorado law in three ways: the district did not have a written evaluation system, the district did not have a performance evaluation council, and Smyser did not hold a valid administrator's license when she performed the evaluation.

Smyser's license was discussed during Knezevich's review, which he opted to make public. At that time, Smyser explained that she had applied for and was told she received her Colorado license, but a processing delay slowed the process. She also said the date of the license would be back-dated to when she applied, which was before Knezevich's first formal review.

In his specific allegations about the board members who voted against renewing his contract, Knezevich says the three made public comments disparaging him and had personal disagreements with him.

Knezevich declined to comment about the issue Sunday and could not be reached Monday after the text of the correspondence with the school district was made public.

"He does not want to involve the district's students, staff and parents in extended public litigation; however, the non-renewal of his contract has caused him and his family serious financial harm," Bechtold stated in the letter. "The non-renewal of Mr. Knezevich's contract - particularly at such a late date - will make it difficult, if not impossible, for Mr. Knezevich to obtain another principal job elsewhere in the state."

Since his ouster, Knezevich was a finalist for the principalship of Soroco High School, but he was not chosen for the position.

Reports

The board spent the rest of Monday's meeting discussing enrollment figures and the district's long-term facilities plan.

Cunningham informed the board that district schools are meeting district policy for student-to-teacher ratios, with no more than 19-to-1 in the elementary schools and 18-to-1 at the secondary schools.

Board member John DeVincentis said those numbers might be misleading, however, because the ratio is not the same as average class size, and several classes have more than 30 students. He also called on the board to lower average class sizes, which he said are higher than they were several years ago.

The official student count for each building is taken Oct. 6. That number is used by the state to determine the district's funding for the year. After the funding is allocated, the board can decide whether there is money to take action and reduce class sizes.

Cunningham also briefed the board about several long-term goals, including the possibility of building a new school and restructuring parking and traffic at the Strawberry Park campus.

If the school district expanded, Cunningham said, she would encourage the district to ask developers on the western edge of town to build the district a new school to serve students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The high school could be expanded to serve an increased population, she said.

Construction on the new Soda Creek Elementary School and the new entrance to the Steamboat Springs Middle School is nearly $120,000 under budget, according to a report prepared by Todd Ficken, project manager for the district.

Dale Mellor, finance director for the district, said it remains to be seen whether that number will stay true after final bills are paid, but he expects the district to come out ahead.

No action was taken at Monday's meeting.

- To reach Zach Fridell, call 871-4208

or e-mail zfridell@steamboatpilot.com

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