The treasurer of the Stow-Munroe Falls school district has filed legal action against the board of education, claiming among other things that her non-renewal was “retaliation” for reporting what she believed to be financial irregularities and improper spending.
Kristy Stoicoiu, whose contract was non-renewed in February, filed the complaint in Summit County Court of Common Pleas late last month alleging wrongful termination, breach of contract, violation of Ohio’s Whistleblower Statute and retaliation violation of public policy, as well as violation of Ohio’s Sunshine Law.
In her complaint, Stoicoiu states that as a public or school official, she is required by law to report “certain violations she reasonably believes occurred” to the school board and the state auditor. She alleges as treasurer, she discovered “certain financial irregularities and improper spending of taxpayer dollars” that she believed to be “criminal felonies” and reported them to both the board and auditor.
Calling it “a retaliatory action” against her for complying with the Ohio Revised Code, the complaint states the non-renewal of her contract creates “a chilling effect” for all treasurers to report suspected financial wrongdoing.
At its Feb. 25 meeting, the board called for an executive session at the conclusion of its business meeting; no executive session had been included on the agenda. The purpose of the closed session was announced as to “consider the compensation of a public employee and the investigation of charges or complaints against public employees or officials,” and did not refer to any consideration of “appointment, employment, dismissal, discipline, promotion, demotion” of a public employee or official, action Stoicoiu is claiming as a Sunshine Law violation. A unanimous vote by the board following the lengthy executive session approved a resolution stating her employment contract would not be renewed at its expiration of July 31.
No reasons have been given by any board members for the decision to non-renew. When contacted, board president Kelly Toppin has said the board had no comment on the decision and added no reasons were being offered publicly “at this time” for the non-renewal.
Stoicoiu states she was not given notice of this executive session nor any of the board’s intention to consider her non-renewal and was excluded from attending the session, which she had done at previous board meetings.
A review of her personnel file shows no disciplinary notes and the last evaluation was completed in 2017 when she was then assistant treasurer. The file did not contain any evaluations in 2017, 2018 or 2019 regarding her job performance as treasurer; her contract calls for the board to “annually evaluate the Treasurer by conducting no less than one Executive Session at either a regular or special meeting of the Board for the express purpose of discussing her performance as the Board’s Treasurer prior to any action by the Board as to a subsequent term of the Treasurer’s contract.”
When asked about the status of an evaluation, Toppin said the board had begun an evaluation, but it was decided not to be completed once the decision to non-renew was made.
Stoicoiu, a Kent resident, is seeking a jury trial and to be re-employed for a one-year contract over the 2019-20 year, in addition to any costs associated with the litigation and damages arising from the board’s alleged breach of contract. The case has been assigned to Judge Mary Rowlands; no trial date has been set.
Stoicoiu was hired in May of 2017 as treasurer with a two-year contract. Her salary is $92,000 annually. The district last month hired Finding Leaders, an Independence-based executive search firm, as a recruitment agent in its search for a new treasurer.
In an auditor’s report released this month, it was announced that Superintendent Thomas Bratten "authorized illegal expenditures and misspent taxpayer dollars," relating to unworked overtime that was paid to his assistant and public funds used to pay for items such as flower arrangements and gifts for board members and administrative staff and personal travel expenses.
The story on the auditor’s report can be found at https://www.mytownneo.com/news/20190416/auditor-stow-munroe-falls-superintendent-misspent-money. To read the full report, go to: http://www.ohioauditor.gov/auditsearch/Reports/2019/Stow-Munroe_CSD_18-Summit.pdf.
The board of education is also the defendant in a breach of contract claim filed by former treasurer Catherine Bulgrin, who contends she has not received payment for accrued vacation and sick leave as agreed to in the November 2015 settlement.
She is asking for the $38,622.60 plus prejudgement interest from March 2018, post-judgement interest, declaratory relief and/?or judgement, reasonable attorney fees and cost as well as any other relief the court may award. No court dates have been set and the complaint has been assigned to Judge Jill Flagg Lanzinger. A trial by jury has been requested.
Toppin has said he has no comment on pending litigation. Jack Morrison Jr. and Christine Faranda, of Amer Cunningham Co. LPA, attorneys on file for both Bulgrin and Stoicoiu, have also stated they have no comment on any pending litigation.
Marsha McKenna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-541-9430.