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Board vote means 2012 reprimand of Willmar, Minn., Middle School principal stays on file

WILLMAR — A Willmar school principal who was reprimanded last fall for allegedly trying to influence the school district’s hiring process on behalf of his wife has been denied a request to have the reprimand removed from his file.

Willmar School Board members voted 6-1 Monday to deny the grievance filed by Mark Miley, principal of the Willmar Middle School.

The board’s action clears the way for Miley to seek arbitration, or for the two sides to negotiate a settlement.

Miley’s attorney, Roger Aronson, said after the meeting Monday that he and his client have 10 days to make a decision, unless a settlement can be reached.

Board member Jackie Saulsbury cast the lone dissenting vote against denying the grievance. Mike Carlson, Dan Croonquist, Linda Mathiasen, Mike Reynolds, Nathan Streed and Liz Van Der Bill voted in favor.

In arguments before the School Board Monday, Miley and his attorney disputed the allegations that led to the reprimand last October.

Disciplining Miley by placing the letter in his personnel file was “inappropriate and not connected to the overall facts of the circumstances,” Aronson said. He and Miley, who has been a principal with the Willmar school system for 17 years, asked to have the letter expunged.

If the School District wanted to discipline Miley, there were other, less severe options available, Aronson said. “You do have the opportunity to end this matter now,” he told the board.

But Patricia Maloney, the Willmar School District’s attorney, said Miley’s behavior represented an abuse of power and was “a very serious matter.”

“This really goes to an ethical concern — the conflict of interest,” she said.

Miley’s wife, Sary, was a candidate in the summer of 2012 for a job as a grant-funded family and community liaison at Kennedy Elementary School. She was interviewed and chosen as one of the finalists. But before any job offer could be made, school officials decided the hiring should be done by district officials rather than Kennedy School officials so they could ensure all the conditions of the grant were being met. All the finalists ended up going through the interview process a second time.

Miley’s husband is alleged to have contacted the Kennedy principal and at least one School Board member to object to the two-phase hiring process.

School Board members were in the position Monday of being unable to publicly discuss the details in Miley’s letter of reprimand. Under the Minnesota Data Practices Act, the letter is considered private data, meaning it can be seen by the board but not shared with anyone else. At this stage of the grievance process, however, discussion must take place during a school board meeting and is subject to the Open Meeting Law, requiring the board to hear Miley’s grievance in a public venue.

Former board member Sandi Unger testified that Miley contacted her this past summer to discuss the hiring process for the job his wife had applied for. She said he called her on the phone three or four times, then sent an email at her request to summarize his concerns.

She said Miley “expressed some frustration” but didn’t specifically ask her to intervene. She said, however, that the situation was “uncomfortable.”

“I thought it was inappropriate,” she said.

With Miley’s permission, she forwarded his email to board chairman Nathan Streed. The issue ultimately was taken up by school district officials who decided to officially reprimand Miley at the beginning of October.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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