Local News

School district tally indicates an average of three complaints investigated externally each year

By From page A1 | April 13, 2014

By the numbers

Total investigations: 16

Conducted internally: 13

Conducted externally: 3

External investigations cost: $58,127

External investigations hours: 271


Total investigations: 13

Conducted internally: 10

Conducted externally: 3

External investigations cost: $82,408

External investigations hours: 379


Total investigations: 27

Conducted internally: 25

Conducted externally: 2

External investigations cost: $37,514

External investigations hours: 174

2013-14 (to date)

Total investigations: 14

Conducted internally: 11

Conducted externally: 3

External investigations cost: $74,356

External investigations hours: 325

The Davis school district investigates an average 18 complaints annually — including an average of three complaints each year that get assigned by the school district to an outside investigator.

The school district has conducted 11 such outside investigations of complaints between July 1, 2010, and Feb. 28, 2014, at an average cost of $22,946 for each of those external investigations. All told, the school district has spent $252,405 on external investigations of complaints during that time.

On average, the district spends about $63,101 annually on external investigations of complaints — a figure that approximately the combined cost of salary and benefits of a teacher with few years of classroom experience, toward the bottom of the district’s pay scale.

These are among the highlights of a document released by the school district Friday afternoon. The Davis Enterprise — seeking to provide a broader context for the high-profile discussion of a complaint involving a volleyball coach and the child of a school board trustee, which resulted in a $22,000 investigation by an outside investigator — related a request roughly a month ago to the school district, asking for a summary of information relating to complaints and the complaint process over the past few years. Several others also asked for a similar summary.

The total number of complaint forms not tallied in the summary released Friday. A significant number of complaints are filed and then sorted out at the school site level by a principal or other school administrator. The summary request by The Enterprise involved those complaints regarding a district employee that get reviewed higher up, at the district office level — typically by either the assistant superintendent of human resources, or the director of student services.

A complaint may come from a student — and there are more than 8,500 students in the Davis school district. Alternately, the complaint may come from a student’s parent. Complaints may also involve a district employee raising an issue relating to another employee — and the district has more than 1,000 employees.

The determination of whether a complaint is investigated internally or externally is determined by several factors, including (but not limited to) “the level of the complaint’s complexity, the availability and expertise of staff to conduct a timely and thorough investigation, the potential impact(s) on the employee and/or complainant; and potential litigation,” according to the document released Friday.

It also should be remembered that just because a complaint is investigated, the outcome of the investigation may result in no change in the school district’s stance. In some cases, the investigation of a complaint (internally or externally) may conclude that no action or discipline involving an employee is appropriate.

The “time slice” covered by the summary released Friday extends back to mid-2010, as then-Superintendent James Hammond was departing and current Superintendent Winfred Roberson was starting in the job.

The summary indicates that during the 2010-11 school year, the district office handled 16 complaints at the district office level, including 13 complaints that were handled internally. There were three complaints in 2010-11 that resulted in an external investigation, and those three internal investigates cost a total of $58,127 (271 hours of work). The summary indicates that between mid-2010 and the end of February 2014, the district turned to 13 different attorneys (with expertise in different areas of the law) as external investigators handling complaints. All of those attorneys are affiliated with either the firm Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Rudd and Romo (AALRR), or the firm Van Dermyden Allison/Maddux (VM).

The tally for the 2011-12 school year included a total of 13 complaints handled at the district level, 10 of which were investigated internally. Three complaints were investigated externally, at a total cost of $82,408 (379 hours).

For 2012-13, there were 27 complaints handled at the district office level, of which 25 were investigated internally. Two complaints were investigated externally, at a total cost of $27,514 (174 hours).

The 2013-14 school year is still underway. For the dates between July 1, 2013, and Feb. 28, 2014 (the most recent date covered by records on file), there were 14 complaints handled at the district office level, 11 of which were investigated internally. Another three complaints were investigated externally, at a total cost of $74,356 (325 hours). There may be further complaints filed, as well as further investigations of complaints, between now and June 30, 2014, when the academic and budgetary year officially ends.

Complaints that reach the district office level are typically handled at the administrative level, and administrators determine whether an investigation of the complaint may be handled internally, of if circumstances warrant an investigation by an outsider.

The school board only gets notice that a complaint is being investigated under two circumstances. If a complaint is filed and a decision regarding the complaint is made at the administrative level and then that decision is appealed, the appeal is then heard by the school board in closed session (with the school board trustees functioning in a quasi-judicial capacity).

This was the scenario in the recent situation involving parent Rob Peterson, school board trustee Nancy Peterson (who resigned on March 6) and volleyball coach Julie Crawford. At the time, several school board members stressed that due to their quasi-judicial role in hearing the appeal, they were hearing the details of the Peterson/Crawford appeal for the first time when the matter was discussed by the school board in closed session on March 13. Such appeals are relatively rare.

The other scenario in which the school board becomes aware of a complaint is when litigation is filed relating to the complaint. The closed session agendas for the Davis school board often feature short line-items referring to “anticipated litigation,” “significant exposure to litigation” and “existing litigation,” but these closed-session items generally are not often connected to the complaint process — they more often involve student discipline cases or other matters.

Contacted by The Enterprise, school board president Gina Daleiden observed that “routinely in large organizations, there are periodically complaints filed involving employees, and they range in terms of complexity and seriousness. A serious complaint might involve a federal law, like discrimination involving a protected group. A matter like that obviously warrants a careful review.” At the other end of the spectrum, “there are lower-level complaints that can be resolved at the site” through an internal investigation.

Daleiden added that all four currently serving school board trustees have expressed interest in establishing an alternative conflict resolution process, and that a discussion on this topic has been scheduled for a school board meeting in May.

“Speaking as an individual, I would expect that (an alternative conflict-resolution process) would help ensure that lengthy investigations are reserved for complaints that warrant that response,” Daleiden added.

The school board also may review existing board policies and administrative regulations regarding the complaint process, she indicated.

Jeff Hudson

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