The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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May 4, 2013

Easton Valley responds to lawsuit

New district fights against agreement

CLINTON — In response to the lawsuit filed against it, the Easton Valley School District claims in court documents that the Northeast School District and East Central School District illegally attempted to bind its future actions when they entered into a whole-grade sharing agreement.  

The East Central and Preston school districts were merged by a public vote last year to become Easton Valley, which will happen on July 1.  

East Central and Northeast entered into the three-year whole-grade sharing agreement beginning in 2011. The agreement was approved after the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency granted permission for the community to vote on merging the Preston and East Central districts.  

During one of the Easton Valley School Board's first meetings in December, the board agreed to notify Northeast that they were canceling the whole-grade sharing agreement.  

The Northeast School District filed suit in February seeking Easton Valley to honor the existing whole-grade sharing agreement.  

Under the agreement, East Central provides transportation for its students to go to Northeast. East Central pays Northeast 90 percent of the state aid it receives for the students to attend classes at Northeast. Approximately 115 seventh through 12th grade East Central students take classes at Northeast.  

According to Easton Valley's response, the agreement was amended in 2011 to include a statement that East Central's successor was also subject to the agreement. Five days after the district court upheld the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency's decision to permit a vote about the reorganization, the Northeast School Board approved the amendment.  

Easton Valley officials claim that the amendment gave Northeast an unfair advantage, especially in regards to termination rights.

The whole-grade sharing agreement stated that either district could terminate the contract by Dec. 15, which Easton Valley Board members did last year.  

The response from Easton Valley states that both East Central Superintendent Neil Gray and Northeast Superintendent Jim Cox reported to the public that once East Central and Preston merged, the whole-grade sharing agreement would go away.  

Easton Valley contends that they were not bound to the whole-grade sharing agreement. Easton Valley officials, through their attorney Brian Gruhn, of Cedar Rapids, claims it is against public policy to enforce the whole-grade sharing agreement when it is entered into by a school board whose district is the current subject of a voter-enforced community petition for reorganization.   

"Potentially expiring school boards may not agree with the majority of voters within their district and should not be permitted to abuse their board authority and enter into contracts at the last hour that negatively impact and control future governmental decision pertaining to reorganization," the response states.  

Among the other reasons for the court to find that the agreement is not enforceable, the Easton Valley District claims that the Northeast and East Central entered into the agreement for unethical reasons.  

"Northeast and East Central entered into the one-way WGS agreements attempting to deprive the new Easton Valley District of its ability to educate its students and receive compensation concerning the same," the suit states.

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