FAYETTEVILLE -- The Fayetteville School District's board unanimously voted to terminate Superintendent Matthew Wendt's contract Monday after an employee sexual-harassment claim more than three months ago.
The board cited a breach of contract by violating the district's sexual-harassment policy. Wendt violated the policy through his derogatory and offensive conduct and communication with a female subordinate employee, said Susan Kendall, a lawyer with the Kendall Law Firm in Rogers and the School Board's legal counsel.
"The superintendent shall ... execute all powers and duties in accordance with board policies and the laws, rules and regulations of the State of Arkansas and its regulatory agencies," according to Wendt's contract.
The employee's lawyer, attorney Suzanne Clark, filed a sexual-harassment claim March 14 and presented Chris Lawson, district general counsel, on March 15 with voice recordings of Wendt and copies of text messages between her client and Wendt that support her client's complaint, Clark said in the news release.
The district "immediately instituted an investigation into the allegations" after being notified, Lawson said April 5. The investigation concluded April 13, he said.
The special meeting to consider Wendt's termination began shortly after 5 p.m. Monday.
The board was scheduled to hold an open hearing at the request of Wendt. However, Wendt waived his right to a public hearing, and the board was then free to consider the personnel matter, Kendall said before the board went into executive session about 5:30 p.m.
The board remained in executive session until about 7 p.m., after which the board voted 7-0 on three findings of fact regarding Wendt's "offensive and derogatory communication with a female subordinate employee."
Elizabeth Robben Murray, Wendt's lawyer, made an objection at the beginning of Monday's meeting, saying that the board is only allowed to unilaterally terminate without the school district's having any further financial obligation to the superintendent if the school district has been placed on fiscal distress by the Department of Education because of the superintendent.
Kendall responded, "I disagree with her position that it is contrary to Arkansas law that provides that a failure of one party to perform its contractual obligations, or in other words breach the contract, excuses and releases the other party from its obligations."
The board then voted to terminate Wendt's contract effective immediately. School Board President Justin Eichmann gave a statement on behalf of the board:
"I would like to express our deep disappointment in the actions that have led to the termination of Dr. Wendt's employment as Superintendent of the Fayetteville School District."
Wendt and his lawyer, Murray, were present at the meeting, as was Clark. Wendt and Murray left before they could be asked for comment.
Wendt was hired July 1, 2016. His annual salary was $231,080, or about $19,256 a month. Wendt will have received around $40,000 in salary since being placed on leave.
Washington Elementary School parent Sarah Moore was one of the many community members present at the packed meeting
"I'm here in support of all the students, many who don't have food at home and are fed by the school staff," Moore said. "The money that has been spent on the superintendent's salary while he has been on leave could go to feeding students. It's wasteful."
Clark said her client's complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the school district and board, filed May 25, is still pending.
Her client's complaint to the commission details Wendt's abusive conduct after the woman refused to continue to have sex with him. The woman complained that Wendt stalked her, sent her numerous text messages while she was at home and at work, and told her she could be fired for her actions, according to a news release sent by Clark on Thursday.
Wendt cursed the woman at work, reminded her he was her boss and would not give her a raise if she refused to have sex with him, according to a letter from Clark to the district in April.
They will wait until they receive the right-to-sue letter before deciding how to move forward, but they plan to sue, Clark said Monday.
John Colbert will remain serving as acting superintendent, Eichmann said.
A capacity crowd attends a Fayetteville School Board meeting to determine the fate of Superintendent Matthew Wendt’s employment at the School District on Monday. The board voted to terminate Wendt’s contract.
Metro on 06/19/2018
Print Headline: Schools' overseer fired after complaint; Fayetteville airs harassment claim