Tort claim prompted Marsh Valley trustees to pay off former superintendent

Trustees in the Marsh Valley School District approved buying out the contract of former superintendent Marvin Hansen after he threatened to sue the district, school board chair Kevin Fonnesbeck told Idaho Education News on Wednesday.

Fonnesbeck said in an email that trustees approved spending $27,500 to buy out roughly four months of Hansen’s employee contract in response to a $500,000 tort claim Hansen filed last month.

EdNews obtained the tort claim and a separation agreement between Hansen and the district on Thursday, via a public records request.

Fonnesbeck’s email sheds light on the board’s prior approval to buy out an unknown employee’s contract for an undisclosed amount of tax dollars earlier this week. Draft minutes from a Monday board meeting show that trustees unanimously voted to buy out the contract of “employee A” without saying who the money was for, or how much the district agreed to pay.

On Wednesday, EdNews asked Bannock County Prosecuting Attorney Stephen F. Herzog to consider if the board’s actions violated Idaho’s open meeting laws. Idaho law exempts school districts from publicly disclosing some information, including personnel records and personal information. Yet “gross salary and salary history, including bonuses, severance packages (and) other compensation” are not included in that exemption.

Following the complaint, Fonnesbeck told EdNews that the payout related to a tort claim the district received from Hansen’s attorney last month.

Trustees “dispute the merits” of the tort claim, Fonnesbeck said, but the board agreed to buy out Hansen’s existing contract to “avoid further legal and other costs to the district.”

Hansen was embroiled in a sexual harassment complaint filed by a district employee last year while he served as superintendent. Trustees hired an independent investigator to probe the complaint. The investigator concluded Hansen’s relationship with the former employee “did not amount to sexual harassment under District policy” but that a “sexual relationship existed” between the two.

Following the investigation, Hansen admitted to misusing a district car and cell phone. The board then demoted Hansen for ethical violations and gave him a new contract with reduced pay.

Hansen’s tort claim alleges that trustees forced him out on sick leave after his demotion. Hansen claims that Rep. Randy Armstrong, R-Inkom, and his wife Paige Armstrong, a Marsh Valley trustee, helped fuel allegations that Hansen was not abiding by the district’s fiscal policies as superintendent.

The tort claim also states that Paige Armstrong shared with “third parties” personal information about Hansen, including allegations that he sexually harassed a former employee.

Paige Armstrong’s “false claims and disclosure of confidential information” damaged Hansen’s “character” and “ability to adequately perform at his job,” the claim says.

Paige Armstrong declined to comment on those allegations but echoed Fonnesbeck’s statement that she disagrees with the merits outlined in the tort claim.

The tort claim asks for $300,000 in “special damages” and $200,000 in “general damages” for Hansen.

Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this story. 

Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

EdNews assistant editor and reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He lives and works in East Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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