(St.Joseph,MO) The St. Joseph School District has resolved a lawsuit filed against them during the November election.Thursday evening the school board announced a settlement agreement with St. Joseph resident Eldon Green.
Prior to the November election, Green filed a lawsuit against the school district claiming tax payer money was being used to promote a campaign in support Proposition 1, a tax levy initiative to increase funding for the district.
The lawsuit was originally dismissed in December by the Buchanan County Judge Patrick Robb, stating the grounds of the lawsuit did not apply to school districts. Green then applied to the Missouri Court of Appeals, where the lawsuit was awaiting judgement prior to signing of the settlement agreement on July 5.
During the previous board meeting the district adopted a new policy to clarify what the district’s limitations are during elections, as required by the agreement.
Superintendent Dr. Doug Van Zyl said the new policy is more specific about the use of district resources.
“It [the policy] explains what as a school district you have the ability to spend some dollars on when it comes to elections and ballot issues, and how the time and energy of people within the school district and board members can be used in order to share information with the community. It’s really not that different than what’s been done in the past,” Van Zyl said.
The new policy allows for the district to contribute to the research of a ballot initiatives that pertain to the district, but prohibits the use of district funds to promote or financially support the specific ballot issue. The new policy does not prohibit district administrators or board members from voicing their opinions on a ballot issue, provided they don’t use district funding to do so.
According to the settlement agreement, the policy cannot be changed for at least three years without taking additional legal action.
School Board Vice President Tami Pasley led the meeting Thursday and said shortly after the election the school district was able to reach out to levy opponents and get in contact with Green.
“After the election and the defeat of the levy, the board put together a committee to go around and visit with people who were against the levy, and find out why they were against it and what we could do better,” Pasley said. “In meeting with those groups we happened on to the group that filed the lawsuit. In talking to them, we were able to satisfy both sides.”
The settlement also required Green to withdraw charges against the district, on the grounds that both the lawsuit and the appeal were mooted by the results of the election.According to the settlement agreement, neither party will receive damages or admit fault in the case.
“Neither side takes any blame, neither side takes any liability,” Pasley said. “This is something we could settle and not spend more money on. That money needs to be going into the classrooms rather than going to lawyers or the court system. We can together to settle it through an agreement and I think that is what’s best for kids.”
As per the agreement, Green will be required to withdraw his complaints made about the district to Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and the Missouri Ethics Commission.