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Heyer elementary teacher suing School District

Orner claims nonrenewal hearing was unfair

May 8, 2012

After saying she did not receive a "fair hearing" to have her contract renewed for the 2012-13 school year, a Heyer Elementary music teacher is suing the Waukesha School District.

Karn Orner, who has been employed with the district since Aug. 29, 2009, filed a lawsuit in the Waukesha County Circuit Court Civil Division April 30.

The claim asks for reinstatement of Orner on the grounds that her employment agreement was breached and that the school district and its administration acted in bad faith and unfairly discriminated against Orner and denied her a fair hearing. Orner's hearing with the Waukesha Board of Education on March 27 was closed after Orner requested her non-renewal hearing be open.

The documents state the closed hearing provided"discriminatory, inflammatory, irrelevant and highly prejudicial information" and showed an intentional disregard of Orner's rights. In the end, the board voted 7-1 to accept the recommendation of administration to not renew Orner's contract.

Barbara Brzenk was the only School Board member to vote in favor of Orner. Board member Ellen Langill was not present for the vote.

This issue, according to court documents filed by Orner's attorney Timothy Andringa, started on Jan. 3, 2012 when Principal Michael Sukawaty met with Orner to inform her that he was cancelling the all-school spring concert at Waukesha South High School that Orner started the year before under then-principal Greg Deets.

He prepared a written memorandum outlining his reasons for the reversal, which according to the court documents were "non-negotiable."

After the meeting, the court documents state that Sukawaty decided that Orner's demeanor at the meeting was "unacceptable" and sought the advice and assistance of Christine Hedstrom, assistant superintendent for Human Resources and Labor Relations.

A meeting then took place between Sukawaty, Hedstrom, Orner and Education of Waukesha President Mitzi Keadle on Jan. 6. Several meetings took place thereafter between Waukesha School District Administration, Orner and Keadle.

Ultimately, the court documents state the Waukesha School District offered a probationary renewal employment for the 2012-13 school year with terms and conditions that required Orner to "consistently address her colleagues and principal in a warm and friendly manner (open body language, warm vocal tone, sustained eye contact, smiling) and issue courtesy statements each time she encounters a staff member."

According to the documents, Orner would also be required to keep a daily log of all contact she had with staff and adults and would have a weekly review of her diary with Sukawaty. Orner declined those terms.

As a result, Sukawaty changed his initial ruling of recommending a renewal of Orner's contract, which he did in an email to Hedstrom in December when he asked that all certified teachers at Heyer be renewed for the 2012-13 school year.

Orner received a letter from Hedstrom on Feb. 9 indicating that the Board of Education voted at its Feb. 8 meeting to not renew her contract.

It said the reason was "due to a lack of satisfactory performance as a teacher."

Orner sent Superintendent Todd Gray an email five days later to request a hearing in front of the Waukesha School Board.

In the email, she said "I would appreciate the opportunity to present evidence to support my satisfactory performance as a teacher." She also asked that Hedstrom and Sukawaty be present for the hearing and asked that the hearing be open to colleagues, parents and other professionals who can speak to her job performance, demeanor and integrity.

While the ruling voted against her, Orner is now prepared to go to court claiming relief for breach of contract, breach of good faith and fair dealing for declaratory relief.

The court documents also state the Waukesha School District "intentionally failed to maintain any meaningful minutes or other documentary evidence or record of the March 27 meeting. No record of any kind reflecting the deliberations of the district for the non-renewal hearing exists."

Gray said he could not comment on the pending lawsuit.

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