November 28, 2014

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Ex-curriculum director for Wellington Schools: Threats, abuse led me to quit

WELLINGTON — The former curriculum director of Wellington Schools said his time with the district was marred by threats and intimidation, which took a toll on his mental and physical health.

The curriculum director, Chris Kamenski, resigned June 30 after 16 months at Wellington Schools. In a letter of resignation to the district, he wrote that he was resigning because of “hostile and abusive working conditions,” and he said several disparaging remarks were made by the former superintendent, Francis Scruci, current Superintendent John Nolan and several district administrators and board members.

Nolan dismissed the allegations, saying that Kamenski is merely an “unhappy employee” who has issues with numerous employees at the district.

“Nobody’s buying into it,” he said.

But during a school board meeting Tuesday night, board member Ayers Ratliff said he found issue with some of Nolan’s alleged comments that were recorded secretly by Kamenski during an administration meeting — a tape Ratliff said he heard in which Nolan allegedly refers to an employee as a “bag lady.” Ratliff brought up the issue during a discussion of a suspension without pay that the woman was facing.

“John, I’m sorry, but you have dirty hands, and you have dirtied our hands in this,” he said.

Ratliff also disagreed with board members, who voted not to allow Kamenski to continue speaking after the allotted five minutes he was given to address the board.

“Freedom of speech is the most important right that we as citizens have,” he said. “It is sickening that a board president asks people, ‘Do you want to support the First Amendment right of the United States of America?’”

The district’s attorney, Kim Meyers, said board policy allows the school board to limit public speaking time. Board member Sally Stewart added that Kamenski had made slanderous and derogatory statements, so board members didn’t need to listen to him.

Kamenski, who spoke to The Chronicle-Telegram prior to the board meeting, said there were problems at the school district before Nolan’s arrival a year ago, but his problems with Nolan began after Nolan made statements about an employee during an administration meeting, calling her a “bag lady.”

“I sent him an email saying that I was offended by his comments,” he said, adding that Nolan never responded to the email.

Nolan admitted to referring to the employee as a “bag lady,” but he said Kamenski took the comments out of context. He said the group was discussing the woman’s employment and problems related to the way she dressed, in which Nolan said she “looks like a bag lady.”

Nolan said he has since apologized to the employee for the remarks.

Kamenski said after he confronted Nolan about the comments, Nolan gave him several “unsatisfactory” ratings in an evaluation Dec. 20.

Nolan wrote in Kamenski’s evaluation, “Chris, every administrator is so frustrated by your total lack of cooperation. We as administrators do not know what you do or even know where you are. … Every building administrator is frustrated because you are not engaged in curriculum and grade-level team meetings.”

Nolan also wrote that Kamenski failed to follow through on his plans and did not cooperatively work with the administration. Kamenski was asked to develop a “growth plan” to address the deficiencies noted by Nolan, and he was asked to present the plan to Nolan by Jan. 4.

Kamenski said he has never received an unsatisfactory rating before, and he believed confronting Nolan about his comments led to the poor evaluation. He said Nolan had given him a “pretty glowing review” for a letter of recommendation that he had requested in October.

Nolan said he wrote the letter, which was not dated, after Kamenski’s evaluation. Despite the poor reviews, he said he wanted Kamenski to be successful.

“After he received his December evaluation, he contacted me … I want people to be successful and be where they can be successful,” he said.

Nolan said Kamenski had some strong attributes, which he focused on in the letter. He said he does not understand why Kamenski is lashing out against the school district, given that he was hired at a new job in Michigan.

Kamenski, who also accused Nolan of calling him a “whipping boy” and making disparaging comments about his religion, accused the school district of rigging an investigation into Nolan’s alleged misconduct by hiring an attorney from a firm the school has used before for a bond issue.

Nolan said while the school has worked with the law firm, it has never worked with the attorney, Elaine Brown, of Squire Sanders, who was hired to complete the investigation.

“It was an extremely thorough and very, very, very impartial,” he said. “She questioned me for two hours.”

Nolan said the investigation found no merit to Kamenski’s complaints.

The school district is moving ahead to hire a new curriculum director, according to Nolan. A contract with the Lorain County Educational Service Center for a new curriculum director was discussed in an executive session after Tuesday’s school board meeting.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com.