Lee’s Summit district defends superintendent choice after question about lawsuits arises

Dennis Carpenter is not a defendant in age-discrimination lawsuits against his current employing school district, Hickman Mills.
Dennis Carpenter is not a defendant in age-discrimination lawsuits against his current employing school district, Hickman Mills. tljungblad@kcstar.com

The days after the Lee’s Summit School District named its next superintendent have been turbulent.

The district announced that current Hickman Mills Superintendent Dennis Carpenter would take the top administrative position on Jan. 9. A few days later, following a television news report that claimed Carpenter faces age-discrimination lawsuits at Hickman Mills, Lee’s Summit school board president Bob White said in a memo to staff that the district had been inundated with concerns from community members.

“Thursday night’s report on Channel 41 regarding Dr. Carpenter was false and unfairly smeared Dr. Carpenter,” White wrote in the memo, adding that Carpenter is not named as a defendant in either suit that his current school district faces.

Sally Barker is an attorney representing the 27 plaintiffs in one suit, which only names the Hickman Mills School District as a defendant.

A petition filed by Barker on behalf of the plaintiffs states 27 teachers on the higher end of the Hickman Mills pay schedule saw their salaries decrease following a board of education vote in the spring of 2015. Barker argues it was a violation of the Missouri Teacher Tenure Act.

“The revision of salary schedule was adopted by the board at the recommendation of Dr. Carpenter,” Barker said Monday.

The Kansas City Star reported in February 2015 on the reason the Hickman Mills district sought to revise its salary schedules for teachers. The article said the revisions were being considered in an attempt to curtail the departure of midrange teachers with higher degrees.

As a solution, the salary schedule adjustments were first conceived by a committee of Hickman Mills teachers and administrators.

In his memo, White said the salary schedule in Lee’s Summit will not be altered as it was at Hickman Mills.

“Salary schedule is a function of Team Lee’s Summit, which is a process that the board continues to support,” White wrote.

White’s note also addresses rumors swirling around his district, including that contracts will not be issued until they are reviewed by the new superintendent, and that when Carpenter comes on board all the Lee’s Summit principals will be fired and required to reapply for their jobs.

Both rumors, White said, are not true.

His memo also rejected rumors about district programs being cut and that Carpenter will being given “free rein” to do as he pleases.

White’s memo asks Lee’s Summit staff to be patient: “The board fully supports Dr. Carpenter; he embodies all of the traits that are important to our community, and we are confident that you will be as excited and impressed by him as were all of us on the board.”

The Lee’s Summit community may be especially sensitive to any questions surfacing about their new superintendent since former Superintendent David McGehee resigned last year amid controversy. Board members had questioned whether McGehee’s romantic relationship with a lead attorney for the district presented a conflict of interest.

Carpenter said he expects to answer questions about the litigation facing Hickman Mills during a public information session Wednesday. However, he said he is taking steps to not “compromise the district’s legal position.

Hickman Mills “has committed to litigating this case in the courts versus the public,” Carpenter wrote, “and I will attempt to balance this commitment with being transparent with Lee’s Summit stakeholders.”

The Lee’s Summit board of education is expected to approve Carpenter’s contract by its Thursday meeting, which begins at 7 p.m.

Mará Rose Williams: 816-234-4419, @marawilliamskc

Public information session

The Lee’s Summit district will host a public information session at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday to answer community members’ questions. Dennis Carpenter and Lee’s Summit board members will be available to address questions.

The session will take place at Lee’s Summit West High, 2600 S.W. Ward Road, in the school’s performing arts center. The meeting will be recorded and shared on the district’s YouTube channel later in the week, according to the district.