Did Millstadt principal lie, berate staff? Attorney calls complaints 'trumped up nonsense'

News-DemocratApril 25, 2013 

The Millstadt School District 160 school board decided to remove Primary Center Principal Kevin Juhas because he "lied" to and berated staff members and shared confidential information about students, according to a letter the district sent him.

Juhas could not be reached for comment but his lawyer Brian Schwartz described the complaints against Juhas as "trumped up nonsense."

Schwartz also said the district didn't follow the terms of Juhas' contract when district officials decided not to renew the contract.

The district notified Juhas about his contract not being renewed by a letter dated March 22, but didn't list any specific reasons.

"My opinion was at that point, because the district didn't give him reasons it's a breach of contract, and the contract automatically renews for next school year," Schwartz said Thursday.

The district then provided a notice on April 8 to Juhas regarding dismissal for cause. Through a Freedom of Information Act request, the Belleville News-Democrat obtained a copy of the letter sent to Juhas from Superintendent Jonathan Green. The letter outlined specific reasons why the school district believed Juhas should be dismissed including lying to and berating staff members; failing to establish any working relationship with the principal at Millstadt Consolidated School; creating an environment of distrust among staff at Millstadt Primary Center; sharing confidential student information; and treating others with disrespect.

The letter dated April 8 sent to Juhas stated the following:

* "You instructed a staff member to place students with individual care aides in an attempt to place more individual care aides in service at (Millstadt Primary Center). When the staff member hesitated because the students did not need aides, you threatened the staff member in front of other personnel that the results of her evaluation may change if she did not follow your inappropriate directive."

* "You lied to your staff regarding the placement of an IEP (individualized education program) student in full isolation, indicating Mr. Green instructed you to do so when he did not."

* "Staff members are afraid to share ideas with you because they believe that you will either take credit for their ideas or you will berate them publicly for their ideas."

* "Your failure to communicate effectively, honestly and respectfully with your staff, members of the community and the board of education significantly impairs the function of (Millstadt Primary Center) and the district as a whole."

At the beginning of this school year, the school board discussed with Juhas "some concerns" regarding his conduct, according to the letter.

"Your conduct in regard to staff has only worsened in the past several months, to the point that you will not be an effective leader moving forward," the letter stated.

The school board voted not to renew Juhas' contract at its March board meeting, and Juhas requested a hearing, which was held April 12. Green said the hearing was held to discuss the non-renewal of Juhas' contract and possible cause for dismissal.

Schwartz said the board "chose not to adopt the notice of dismissal for cause, because they did not find cause to dismiss him."

The school board approved not renewing Juhas' contract April 12 by a 5-2 vote. Kirk Caponi, Vicki LePere, Rhonda Jenkins, Gene Rodemich and Don Pellman voted to not renew and Mike Todd and Bob Dahm voted against the measure.

Schwartz said he is in discussions with Juhas regarding whether they will approach the new school board with a request for reconsideration. "That decision has not yet been made," Schwartz said.

Two new school board members were elected April 9: Kurt Muskopf and Stacey L. Sommerfield.

Parent Holley Aplin said she is "deeply upset" about the board's decision to not renew Juhas' contract. Aplin, who has a second-grader at Millstadt Primary Center, said she and her husband moved to Millstadt, because they were "extremely impressed with the schools. I wanted my children to have the best education in the area and I believe my son has received that to date through Mr. Juhas' leadership," Aplin said. "I am devastated that he will not be able to continue as part of the school community, and that my daughters will not have the benefit to attend the school under his leadership."

Aplin praised Juhas' leadership. "He does everything within his power to provide a safe, fun and successful learning environment," she said. "The kids, parents and community will miss Mr. Juhas for many years to come."

In contrast, parent Kristi Johnston said she agrees with the board's decision to not renew Juhas' contract.

"I in no way believe it is personal or good ole boy politics," she said. "There were numerous complaints against him or the board would not have taken this action. They do not make hasty decisions."

As principal, Juhas earned $79,050 annually. After five years with the district, Juhas' last day will be June 15.

Green said district officials are looking at how the district will be structured next school year as Millstadt Consolidated School Principal Gary Huwer is retiring at the end of this school year.

"We haven't determined what we are going to do," Green said about the principal position at Millstadt Primary Center.

The district has received more than 70 applications to fill Huwer's position, according to Green.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

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