Knight claims school district violated state law

Written by Chris Collins July 18, 2012 09:38 am

By Chris Collins

This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Baker School Board member Kyle Knight has filed a second complaint against the school district with the Oregon Department of Justice.

In a letter dated July 3, Knight asks the state Attorney General to consider if the district violated Oregon law by approving a revised salary schedule for district administrators “without the full authorization or authority of the District Board of Directors.”

The law states: “All contracts of the school district must be approved by the district school board before an order can be drawn for payment. If a contract is made without the authority of the district school board, the individual making such contract shall be personally liable."

Knight voted against the district’s proposed 2012-13 budget this spring because it included the revised administrative salary schedule, which provides incremental salary increases over 10 steps, up from the former seven-step schedule. Only one administrator, Baker High School principal Jerry Peacock advanced on the schedule in 2011-12 because of his long tenure with the district.

The new schedule was implemented in the spring of 2011 before Knight and directors Mark Henderson and Jim Longwell took office. Lynne Burroughs, board chair, and director Andrew Bryan were on the board along with former directors Ginger Savage and Rusty Munn, who did not run for re-election, and Damien Yervasi, former board chair. Knight defeated Yervasi in the May 2011 election. 

Burroughs said she supports the salary schedule, which is “in line with salaries across the state.”

She said the school board does not approve every step increase for every employee and that there was no attempt to hide the revised salary schedule for administrators.

“He really doesn’t have a beef with this board,” Burroughs said. “He has to go back a ways. It was when Damien was board chair.”

Knight maintains, however, that Oregon law requires that the board should have  considered and approved the salary schedule before it was implemented.

“The conduct of the Baker 5J School District is serious and may warrant a criminal investigation,” Knight wrote in his complaint to the Attorney General’s office.

The 20-year-old, who has been censured by a majority of the board for releasing information the board and district administrators deemed confidential, has notified the district of his intent to file a federal lawsuit based on the censure.

Knight filed a complaint with the state in March regarding the way budget committee members were appointed this spring. Lynne Burroughs, board chair, followed past practice and appointed three community volunteers without taking the matter before the board. The board approved Burroughs’ action retroactively at its March meeting.

Knight also objected to Dan Van Thiel, the district’s legal adviser, serving on the budget board. Van Thiel stepped down from the position after Knight raised the issue as a possible conflict of interest.

Superintendent Walt Wegener has said he disagrees with Knight’s concerns about Van Thiel’s service on the budget board,  but it became a moot point once Van Thiel resigned.

In a letter dated April 18, Rebecca Hall, finance and taxation analyst for the Oregon Department of Revenue, which reviewed Knight’s first complaint against the district, advised the board to ensure that it follows Oregon law, which requires that budget committees are “appointed by the governing body.”

Knight said in an email to the Baker City Herald that he was notified by the governor’s office that his second complaint would be handled by the Department of Justice.