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— The Decatur School District filed a counterclaim to former superintendent Dave Smith’s lawsuit against the district on Sept. 24, according to court records.

Smith filed a lawsuit against the district in November of 2008 to receive pay for the remainder of his three-year-contract. Smith signed the contract with the district in January of 2008, after acting as superintendent for only one semester. It entitled him to an $89,000-per-year salary plus benefits, which could add up to more than $300,000 for the duration of the contract.

When problems with the school’s finances came to light in July, the Decatur School Board suspended Smith with pay. The Arkansas State Board of Education decided at its July 31 meeting to no longer pay Smith. At the same meeting the State moved to take control of the Decatur School District.

According to court documents, the counterclaim accuses Smith of breach of contract for failing to perform the duties required of a superintendent, such as overseeing the districts financial well-being and managing former district treasurer Tina Murray. It also accuses him of misfeasance, or performing his duties inadequately or poorly.

The counterclaim even alleges that Smith often retired to his office, shutting the door and blinds and remaining there the majority of the day refusing even to accept phone calls.

It alleges that as a result of Smith’s poor performance, the Decatur School District suffered significant financial losses, including:

• The loss of approximately $420,000 in state funding as a result of 70 students transferring out of the school when it was facing the possibility of being annexed into a neighboring district.

• Approximately $41,000 embezzled by former treasurer Tina Murray.

• A $40,000 penalty from the Internal Revenue Service.

There is no precedent in Arkansas for this kind of case, according to David Matthews, the attorney for the Decatur School District.

“We’re plowing new ground,” he said. Matthews is also representing the Greenland School District, which is facing a similar situation.

“We’re trying to preserve all the possible options a school district has when it’s being taken over by the state,” Matthews said.

When asked why Smith was suing the Decatur School District instead of the Arkansas Department of Education, Matthews said one of the school’s defenses is impossibility.

“Our position is the Decatur School District is not free to operate like other districts. It can only pay the bills the state commissioner orders,” he said, explaining the commissioner specifically ordered the Decatur School District to stop paying Smith.

The trial was originally scheduled for Nov. 17, but was rescheduled for Feb. 25, 2010.

News, Pages 1 on 11/25/2009

Print Headline: School district countersues:

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