Scheme Unravels: Joshua Powell Gets Sued

There’s no other way to start this story than with a flashback:

  • Montgomery Co. Has Yet Another Big Problem [March 3, 2014]
  • In Wake Of The Latest Montgomery Co. Scandal… [March 4, 2014]
  • Montgomery Co. High School Principal Reinstated But The Wildfire Of Corruption Rages On [May 30, 2014]
  • Sources Confirm Additional Powell Investigations [June 3, 2014]
  • Could Josh Powell’s Principal Hiring Be Illegal? [June 11, 2014]
  • Newspaper Misinforms Montgomery County Again [June 12, 2014]
  • More Retaliation Claims Surface In Montgomery Co. [June 25, 2014]

The TL;DR: The employee former Montgomery County High School Principal Jim Dusso refused to retaliate against is suing superintendent Joshua Powell. Dusso, of course, was summarily fired (then reinstated after Powell got caught) but has been participating in ongoing investigations of that particular scandal. See more on that in his own words later.

The employee Powell was retaliating against? He suspected she and her husband of being behind the infamous Title IX complaint:

Now that former employee, Kelly Wallace, has come forward and we can reveal her identity.

On July 25 she filed suit in Montgomery County against Powell and the Board of Education. The first filing in the case, as you’re about to see, validates dozens of previous stories we’ve published and shines some additional light on the Dusso mess. It reads like a summary of the playbook Powell uses to retaliate against anyone who gets in his way.

Let’s get right into the excerpts. It’s a lot to read but it’s in plain language that’s easy for everyone to understand:

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

(5) For the 2013-14 school year, Kelly was assigned as a health/PE teacher at the Montgomery County High School (“MCHS”), was the chair of the health/PE department at the high school, and was the head coach of the volleyball team at the high school and the McNabb Middle School.

(6) On or about December 2, 2014, Superintendent Powell met with the high school’s building principal, James Dusso, and others. Powell discussed a Title IX discrimination complaint that had been filed in 2013 with the Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education (“OCR”), against the school district and his dislike of Kelly’s husband.

(7) During the meeting, Superintendent Powell stated his belief that Kelly and her husband were involved with the filing of the Title IX complaint, that he disliked her husband, and that he wanted to “get rid of her.” He continued to make comments based upon these sentiments:

— He directed Mr. Dusso to make sure that Kelly’s evaluations reflected that her employment was not to be renewed, further clarifying that he wanted documentation in her evaluations that would support her employment not being renewed after the current school year, even though her past evaluations were positive and there was no basis not to renew her based upon her performance. He stated that evaluations going forward should reflect issues sufficient to justify her non-renewal.

— He stated that he refused to pay Kelly the stipend paid to department chairs, even though she was entitled to it as chair of the health/PE department at the high school.

— He stated that Kelly’s husband, who had provided volunteer and contract work to the district, would never be allowed to provide his services to the district again so long as he remained Superintendent.

(8) After Superintendent Powell departed the meeting, the high school’s Athletic Director, Gene Heffington, confirmed with the remaining attendees their collective understanding of what Superintendent Powell had just requested them to be done as to falsifying negative evaluations of Kelly.

(9) In early January 2014, Mr. Dusso submitted the MCHS Evaluation Review Form regarding Kelly. His report reflected that he had not addressed or assisted Kelly with certain issues, as would normally be done, because the Superintendent had directed him not to discuss any issues with her until after the middle school volleyball season was completed.

(10) On or about January 14, 2014, Superintendent Powell met with Mr. Dusso and others. He rebuked Dusso for Dusso’s unwillingness to recommend Kelly’s non-renewal. He also directed Dusso to alter the Evaluation Review Form to delete the language indicating that assistance had not been addressed with Kelly per the Superintendent’s direction.

(11) Following the meeting Mr. Dusso prepared a letter and emailed it to Superintendent Powell. (a copy of the letter is attached as Exhibit A). Mr. Dusso delineated what had been said in the previous meetings and refused to alter the Evaluation Review Form and to assist the Superintendent in his campaign of retaliation against Kelly. Mr. Dusso also prepared a separate written narrative summarizing the conversations with Powell as to Kelly. (a copy is attached as Exhibit B).

-SNIP-

(13) On February 16, 2014, Kelly’s attorney sent a letter to Defendants’ legal counsel citing Defendants’ obvious retaliation against Kelly, including the refusal to pay her the usual department chair stipend and the posting of a vacancy for her position as chair of the health/PE department at MCHS. Thereafter, Defendants responded by paying her the department chair stipend and removing the job posting for the position of health/PE department chair at the high school.

(14) On May 2, 2014, Kelly received a notice of non-renewal of her employment contract with the Montgomery County school system for the 2014-15 school year, signed by Superintendent Powell. Although not explicitly stated in the letter, the non-renewal included her extra-duty positions (MCHS health/PE department chair and head coach of the volleyball teams at the high school and middle school), since the school district posted these positions as job vacancies shortly after Ms. Wallace was given the notice of non-renewal.

(15) After Kelly requested a written statement containing the specific, detailed, and complete statement of grounds upon which non-renewal of her contract was based, as authorized by KRS 161.750, Superintendent Powell responded with his letter of 5/12/14 claiming that reductions in “Section 7” funding allocations to MCHS for 2014-15 required a reduction in the number of Health/PE teachers at MCHS. Section 7 is a reference to 702 K.A.R. 3:246, Section 7.

(16) However, the date of Ms. Wallace’s non-renewal letter was May 2, 2014, and the allocation of Section 7 funds for the 2014-15 school year was not approved by the BOE until its May 8, 2014 meeting.

(17) The stated reasons for non-renewal of Kelly’s employment contract are a contrived and fraudulent pretext for unlawful retaliation, and Defendants have acted adversely to her employment in violation of the Kentucky Whistleblower Act, KRS 61.101 et seq., Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681 et seq., and federal and state civil rights laws protecting her constitutional rights.

To sum that all up? She’s suing the living daylights out of Powell and the district for retaliation. All because Powell believed she and her husband were responsible for blowing the whistle on Title IX violations (spoiler alert: more on that scandal coming soon, investigation opened back up).

Since Dusso has since been reinstated with the district, it seems like Powell won’t have a leg to stand on.

Speaking of Dusso, let’s take a look at Exhibits A and B.

EXHIBIT A

Superintendent Powell-

Since our last meeting on January 14, I have reflected on the requests you have made of me regarding Kelly Wallace. During our meeting on December 2, you informed me and the others present that you knew Kelly and her husband Brian were responsible for the Title IX complaint filed against the District in November. You directed me to make sure that her evaluations reflect that she is not to be renewed. I asked for clarification, and you said you need documentation to show in her evaluations that would support her not returning after the current school year. I indicated that Kelly’s past evaluations were positive, and that there was no basis not to renew her based upon her performance. You responded that the evaluations moving forward should reflect issues sufficient to justify her non renewal. You further indicated in the meeting that you would refuse to pay Kelly the stipend traditionally allocated to Department Chairs, and that her husband Brian would never work with students again so long as you were Superintendent. At one point during the conversation, you stated flatly referring to Kelly “we need to get rid of her.”

Sometime during the week of December 17, Phil Rison and Jacqui Johnston interviewed me about Kelly’s teaching performance, and asked if I had any concerns. I responded no, and that i had no issues with her teaching ability. I did express I had a couple of issues with her performance as volleyball coach, but that those were minor and no relevant to the decision whether or not to renew her as a teacher.

On January 10, I submitted the MCHS Evaluation Review Form, indicating that Kelly had professionalism issues, and those had not been addressed with her “per Superintendent.”

On January 14 we met with Phil and Jacqui present. During the meeting, you repeatedly referred to me as a “chicken-shit leader,” for my unwillingness not to recommend Kelly’s non renewal. You asked “how I could allow her to shit on me and the school as many times as she had.” You directed to alter the Evaluation Review Form to delete “per Superintendent.” I indicated at that time I would do so as you directed.

I will not alter the documents as you directed. I will however change my recommendation regarding Kelly from non renewal to renewal. She is one of the finest Health/PE teacher we have at the school, and the students cannot afford to lose her as a teacher.

I will no longer participate in your illegal and unethical efforts to retaliate against Kelly and Brian for filing the Title IX complaint. I have reported your actions to the Kentucky Department of Education, the Educational Professional Standards Board, and the Office of Education Accountability.

-Jim Dusso

EXHIBIT B

I have been employed as the building principal at Montgomery County High School since July of 2012. During my tenure I have endured a number of incidents with the superintendent of Montgomery County Schools (Joshua Powell) that I have always considered to be either unprofessional or extremely disrespectful towards myself and others working within the school district.

I can no longer consider his behavior as reasonable or professional. One such incident that occurred on Monday, December 2, 2013 between 11:00am and 11:45am was that I was instructed to “make sure that her evaluations reflect that she is not to be renewed” when I asked for clarification to his comment, Joshua Powell made the statement, “I need documentation to show in her evaluations that would support her not returning after the current school year.” I said that her past evaluations in teaching reflected no issues. Joshua Powell told me that “it better moving forward.”

The teacher in reference is Kelly Wallace, a Health and Physical Education teacher here at Montgomery County High School. She was hired a year prior to my arrival. All of her formative evaluations show satisfactory remarks in her teaching and all of her summative evaluations reflect satisfactory in every category for the past 2 years. Her 2013-2014 first formative evaluation was satisfactory in all 11 areas of the evaluation. Each season has been successful in win/loss ratio, team moral, and overall season. There has been what I consider to be some normal “pitfalls” of a new coach that I believe with the right mentoring could be fixed. Those issues revolve around dealing with parents in 2 or less incidents and in finding resolution within.

The issue with finding resolution within is that Ms. Kelly is passionate about her students and athletes and wishes to ensure that there is a true reflection of equality throughout our high school. Ms. Wallace, as I have been informed through Joshua Powell and Phil Rison, filed an Office of Civil Rights (Title IX) claim against MCHS in athletics and course offerings. It is my perception because of this grievance that Joshua Powell has made it clear that he wants Ms. Kelly non-renewed.

Going back to the meeting on Monday 12/2/13, present were Joshua Powell (Superintendent), Phil Rison (Assistant Superintendent), Gene Heffington (Athletic Director/Assistant HS Principal), Rocky Franz (Assistant HS Principal), JEssie Bacon (Assistant HS Principal), and myself (Jim Dusso – HS Principal). The meeting was quickly focused on the OCR investigation and the information that would be needed form the high school. During that time Joshua Powell made reference to Brian Wallace (Kelly Wallace’s husband) and how Brian put together a presentation for a new weightlifting facility in the Barn gym. Joshua Powell told us that if it had not been for Brian sending a letter to the board members that funding would have been approved. Joshua Powell stated that Brian had “no business talking to his board members” and “that his letter” created the downfall of the new equipment. In addition, Joshua Powell stated that Brian Wallace was “chicken shit” for never meeting with him after that all occurred and because of that “he would never be allowed to be around Montgomery County students.” Brian had been allowed to work as a track assistant in past season and asked to work as a volunteer assistant with Ms. Wallace the 2013 volleyball season. Joshua Powell informed myself and our Athletic Director that he would have to meet with Joshua Powell prior to being allowed to serve as a volunteer but Joshua Powell stated “he will never work with our athletes as long as I am the superintendent here.”

After about 10 to 12 minutes of the conversation surrounding Brian Wallace, Joshua Powell then stated “we need to get rid of her” and that is when he made the statement of “make sure that her evaluations reflect that she is not to be renewed.” Joshua Powell continued comments that she would not receive a “dime more from this district” in reference to my request that she be paid the stipend for being a department chair. A stipend that was paid to a previous department chair in the previous school year.

Our meeting ended and Joshua Powell and Phil Rison left my office. Gene Heffington asked us if he heard correctly what Joshua Powell had asked Gene and me to do. All of us in the room looked at each other and then one by one we each agreed that Joshua Powell did indeed ask for Gene Heffington and myself (Jim Dusso – HS Principal) to falsify Ms. Wallace’s evaluations to ensure that she would not be renewed.

Around the week of December 17, 2013 Phil Rison and Jacqui Johnston interviewed me in my office about Kelly Wallace’s teaching and if I had any “concerns?” I made it clear that I had “no issues with her teaching abilities and I had no evaluations that would reflect that.” I was asked if there were “concerns” I had with coaching Volleyball and I discussed two issues I considered to be minor and no relevant to renewal.

On Friday, January 10, 2014, I emailed MCHS Evaluation Review form as required by supervisor, Joshua Powell. The documentation reflects that Kelly Wallace had Professionalism issues, but I had not addressed them as I would have normally done because I was directed by Joshua Powell not to discuss any issues with her until after Junior High Volleyball was completed. My documentation reflects that directive.

On Tuesday, January 14, 2014, I was scheduled to meet with Joshua Powell at 1pm. I believe our meeting started around 1:30pm. Present in that meeting were Joshua Powell, Phil Rison, Jacqui Johnston, and myself. During the first 15-25 minutes Joshua Powell made unprofessional comments about me and my instructional judgments about renewing Kelly Wallace, he referred to me several times as a “chicken shit leader” if I renewed Kelly Wallace and “how could I allow her to shit on me and the school” as many times as she had. He informed me I had “no balls” to make the tough call on non-renewing her. I explained that i had “no issues with her teaching, I was concerned for a few items related to her coaching.” Joshua Powell then said to me “hey man, it’s your school, you can renew her, but that is chicken shit if you do.” He then reviewed the documentation from 1/10/14 of the Evaluation Review and commented “did you try to show documentation” related to Kelly Wallace’s line that addresses the if assistance provided “NO – Per Superintendent.” He then stated “I am going to need you to re-change that line” and also stated “can you help me by discussing this with the assistant principals.” I informed him there was some changes that need to be made and it would be simple to do. I was appeasing Joshua Powell with my words so I could leave his office. It was my perception that he was trying to cover up his statements.

I left his office and used the weekend to decide on the course of action I would choose moving forward.

Jim Dusso

There you have it. In Dusso’s own words.

If you’d like to read the entire court filing, click here for a copy of the PDF. Warning: It’s more than 5 megabytes in size, so your best bet is to read the text above.

In a lot of ways, this is the most damning Montgomery County Schools/Joshua Powell story yet. His taxpayer-funded attorneys will try to argue the case has no merit but we all know it does. There are hundreds of pages of investigative documents from both state and federal agencies to back the claims up. And Kelly Wallace isn’t backing down. Her case, and a few others like it, will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.