Idaho school district under fire over Crane settlement
by Steve Kadel
staff writer
Dec 20, 2012 | 3616 views | 0 0 comments | 1152 1152 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Grand County School District Superintendent Scott Crane said this week that he left his previous superintendent position in Blackfoot, Idaho, as “an economic business decision” and defended payments he received in a settlement from Blackfoot School District 55.

The Blackfoot School District decided in April to pay Crane $210,856 in two equal installments, one of which has been made. But the district also took steps to hide the settlement agreement from the public, according to documents released following a court ruling last week. Retired Blackfoot teacher Joyce Bingham and the Idaho Falls Post Register newspaper filed a successful lawsuit that forced the previously undisclosed arrangement to be made public.

The issue was controversial because the Blackfoot school board negotiated the settlement in an executive session that was closed to the public – a violation of Idaho state law. Bingham filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get details, but the board refused to divulge any information.

A judge later sided with Bingham and the newspaper, ruling that the settlement document was a public record.

Bingham’s attorney, Jared Harris, said this week his client’s only motive was to force the school board to follow state law by conducting business in open session. Bingham actually stands to lose financially through her action because she has been a substitute teacher in the district since retiring, he said.

Crane said in an interview Monday, Dec. 17, that it was his desire to retire in Idaho and continue working in Utah because of financial considerations.

“It’s normal for superintendents, when they want to leave, to negotiate a settlement,” he said. “There was no smoking gun. There were no problems. I chose to leave.”

The Grand County Board of Education issued a news release indicating unanimous support for Crane.

“The Board has enjoyed working with Dr. Crane these past six months and believes that he is the right person for the job,” the release stated. “The information about the separation agreement now coming out in Idaho newspapers was not disclosed at the time we hired Dr. Crane.

“As we now know, the agreement between Blackfoot School District and Dr. Crane contained a non-disclosure provision. Therefore, disclosure by Dr. Crane was and still is inappropriate.”

The separation agreement obtained by The Times-Independent called for termination of the contract on June 30. The agreement was signed April 20.

The Blackfoot district agreed to give Crane two payments of $105,428 – one on July 2 and the other on July 1, 2013. The district also agreed to pay a longevity bonus of $9,000, which is normal in Idaho for school officials who have served a required number of years. Crane also was paid for accrued vacation time and received his salary while on leave of absence from June 1 to June 30.

The Blackfoot district employed Crane for 26 years, including the last five as superintendent.

The separation agreement prohibits Crane and the district “… from publishing any derogatory, disparaging or negative statement with respect to each other or with respect to their employment relationship or with respect to the performance of Superintendent’s duties and responsibilities …”

District Court Judge David C. Nye of Idaho’s Seventh Judicial District ruled Dec. 7 in favor of Bingham and the Post Register, saying they properly sought a public record under the Idaho Public Records Act. Nye’s decision required the district to turn over the non-disclosure statement.

The Blackfoot school board placed the settlement in Crane’s personnel file to keep it from being seen, but indicated in the agreement that the process might have been illegal.

The agreement states that the district “… makes no warranty, representation or promise that this Agreement does in fact constitute a personnel record, that such exemption is applicable to this Agreement or that such code section would allow withholding of this Agreement from inspection and copying by the public.”

The board, in a special meeting April 24, referred to Crane only as “employee B-2012.” The first payment of $105,428 was recorded on the district’s 2013 expense summary on July 2 for “AP contract services” through Zions Bank in Salt Lake City.

During the interview this week Crane called Bingham “a good lady” and said there were no problems between them.

Attorney Harris contended that the settlement contract is void because it was negotiated illegally in a closed-door session. He said it is unknown whether Crane must reimburse the district for money he has received. Crane acknowledged he has retained an attorney because “you have to protect your rights.”

Grand County School District Business Administrator Robert Farnsworth, a member of the district’s superintendent search committee, said the committee “felt we had a pretty good picture” of Crane before he was hired.

Farnsworth said the committee researched the backgrounds of several candidates by calling co-workers and others with knowledge of the applicants’ work experience. Committee members did not contact references provided by candidates, he said.

They avoided doing that because such references proved unreliable in the past, Farnsworth said, adding the district sometimes did not “get what we thought we had” from those recommendations.

The search committee talked to Blackfoot teachers union representatives about Crane, among other sources.

“They had very good things to say about Dr. Crane,” Farnsworth said. “I have complete confidence in him.”

Crane said he hopes people in Moab will evaluate his work here without being biased by the Idaho controversy.

“A person ought to be judged on how you know them,” he said. “If people have a problem with the junk in Idaho, they can come talk to me. I hope people judge me by their interactions with me.”

Crane said he applied for multiple jobs before leaving Blackfoot and was a finalist for superintendent positions in several districts.

“I came here because I am only 58 and am not ready to retire,” he said. “When I came to Moab I felt like it was the place I wanted to be. I plan on staying here when I retire. This is my home.”

He said he is uncertain about how long he will work. However, he called himself a workaholic and said he doesn’t want to limit himself to a particular number of years as Grand County School District superintendent.

“I love Moab,” Crane said. “I think I’m doing a good job.”

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