UPDATE: Ex-Burnsville school administrator had filed charges and complaint
by John Gessner
Tania Chance, the School District 191 administrator who was paid nearly $255,000 in a separation agreement, had earlier filed charges with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and a complaint with the Minnesota Board of School Administrators.
The board of administrators complaint concerned district Superintendent Randy Clegg, according to the separation agreement.
Chance, the district’s former human resources director, withdrew the charges and claim as a condition of the buyout, the document said.
Thisweek obtained an unredacted copy of the agreement last week. Copies released earlier by the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage district had nine lines blacked out on the advice of its attorney.
District-supplied copies also didn’t include letters of reference for Chance supplied by Clegg and School Board Chair Ron Hill. Thisweek has obtained the letters. The agreement required the two officials to write letters of recommendation.
The redacted lines include references to “charges pending with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and/or Equal Opportunity Commission” and “complaint(s) made on or about Dec. 8, 2011 to the Minnesota Board of Administrators regarding Randall Clegg.” The agreement doesn’t elaborate on the charges or complaint.
The unredacted copy says: “Chance has submitted documentation to the School District that she has withdrawn all charges pending with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and/or Equal Opportunity Commission, including but not limited to the Charge referenced in the e-mail dated Dec. 9, 2011 to Mario Hernandez at the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.”
It continues: “Chance has submitted documentation to the School District that she has withdrawn complaint(s) made on or about Dec. 8, 2011 to the Minnesota Board of Administrators regarding Randall Clegg.”
Another condition in the redacted portion of the agreement is that Chance withdraw “all data requests made to the School District under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.”
Elsewhere in the agreement, Chance relinquishes rights to any claims, “past and present, known or unknown,” against the district for a range of possible violations, including violation of the state Human Rights Act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and other civil rights laws.
Discrimination was the charge in the Department of Human Rights case.
Chance “contacted our office to begin the process of filing a charge of discrimination” with the department, Hernandez, the department’s legislative and community affairs director, wrote in an email response to the newspaper. “Prior to the charge being filed, Ms. Chance decided not to pursue her charge of discrimination.”
Stan Mack, executive director of the Board of School Administrators, said he couldn’t confirm or deny the existence of a complaint. He cited state data privacy law.
Under the agreement, which the School Board approved in January, Chance resigned voluntarily on Feb. 1. She was paid $254,815 to sit out the last 18 months of a two-year contract, which the agreement says includes salary, leaves and other benefits due her.
Interest in the already inflamed case was heightened by a stormy School Board listening session March 1 (see related story) attended by about 200 people, many of them teachers. Speakers blasted the board for making such a large payout without explaining the circumstances of the settlement. Some called for all board members to resign.
Hill, one of two board members conducting the session, told the crowd the board is seeking an advisory opinion from a state agency on whether it properly interpreted the Minnesota Data Practices Act when it redacted part of the agreement on the advice of its attorney.
The district said on its website an opinion is forthcoming on or before April 17.
Hill’s letter of recommendation, dated Jan. 13, said he “highly” recommends Chance for “any leadership position in the area of human resources.”
She managed a “complete overhaul” of the district’s human resources operation “with a great deal of professionalism.
“This type of change can be difficult for staff and employees to understand and accept. She was able to move the district to a more effective structure that will benefit employees, and also enhance the district’s ability to provide more effective service to our employees. Her collaboration with the school board, staff and the utilization of outside resources were all part insuring (sic) success.”
Clegg’s letter, dated Jan. 16, also lauded Chance, who came to the district in July 2010, as an effective change agent.
“Dr. Chance’s attention to detail was evident as she successfully managed restructuring of the human resources department while simultaneously supporting major changes in the district health insurance plan, changes in contracting substitute services, implementing significant staff reductions due to budget reductions, and coordinating department software system upgrades,” it reads.
When confronted with “a variety of challenging and unique employee situations,” Chance was “clear and forthright in addressing the specific situation while maintaining a sharp focus on the district’s educational mission.”
to Thisweek story
The district said in a statement after a version of this story was posted on Thisweek’s website March 2 that it “cannot confirm or deny that the newspaper has printed redacted information from the separation agreement, because to do so would release private data.”
“Complaints can be made to state agencies, and they must be accepted for processing regardless of whether or not there is any merit to the allegations. If fact, most complaints made to agencies are dismissed.
“But to get a dismissal, the employer must spend significant money and time — even for claims that have no merit whatsoever. When employers are faced with potential litigation, they have to consider the cost of defense versus settlement — and that is especially true for a public school district. To do otherwise would be acting irresponsibly.”
The district redacted part of the agreement to protect it from liability should the state or a court determine that the data is private, it said. In that case, the district’s liability would be “in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
John Gessner is at email@example.com.