Discrimination complaint filed against SD2 for interim superintendent hire

2012-04-18T16:55:00Z 2014-08-25T07:26:23Z Discrimination complaint filed against SD2 for interim superintendent hireBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

One of the candidates who applied for the School District 2 interim superintendent position last November has filed a discrimination complaint with the state against SD2, alleging the school board passed her over because she is black.

"I believe (SD2) discriminated against me by not hiring me for a position for which I was qualified because of race," Mary Wells, who was one of four people to apply for the interim job, wrote in her complaint.

Instead of Wells, the board hired Jack Copps to take over as interim superintendent. The other two candidates were Josh Middleton -- the district's current assistant superintendent -- and Dan Martin, who retired from the district last year as director of human resources.

Wells, director of curriculum and instruction for Educational Resources, a nonprofit education advocacy group in Lansing, Ill., was the only candidate from out of state.

She did not return calls Wednesday seeking comment.

In her complaint, filed with the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, Wells states she is clearly qualified to take over as interim superintendent and that SD2 violated state law by hiring Copps. 

Copps had served as SD2 superintendent from 2006 to 2010, when he retired. The board then hired Superintendent Keith Beeman in May 2010, where he served until he resigned under pressure in October of 2011.

In response to Wells' complaint, Jeana Lervick, SD2's director of human resources, wrote that when Wells applied to the district, she "failed to submit a copy of a current administrative license."

That cast doubt with the board about whether she was qualified under Montana law to run a school district.

Wells also asked for a salary of $60,000 for the temporary position, which was the highest salary request of the four candidates. Copps' salary request was $18,000 for the year.

All four candidates were interviewed the same night by the board. Copps, Middleton and Martin all attended the board meeting and Wells participating via Skype, an online video chat program.

Each candidate was asked the same 10 questions by trustees and given 45 minutes to respond. Copps, Middleton and Martin used nearly all of their time. Wells and the board finished up questioning in about 20 minutes.

"The district denies violating any law and avers that it met its obligations under the law," Lervick wrote. "The board found Superintendent Copps to be the most qualified candidate in at least the areas of salary requirements, experience, familiarity with the district and public approval."

SD2's response to Wells' complaint was filed with the state Deptartment of Labor and Industry earlier this month. From there, the department will decide either to investigate Wells' allegations or issue a judgment.

If it investigates and finds the district possibly discriminated against Wells, representatives from the state could sit down with both parties to try and work out a settlement. If that doesn't work, Wells would then have the option of filing a lawsuit against SD2.

Lervick didn't think it would come to that.

"I am very confident Ms. Wells' race was not a consideration of this board" when it voted who to hire, Lervick said by phone on Wednesday. "I'm very comfortable with the district's position."

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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