Schools Chief to Be Deposed in N.Y. Bias Suit

Superintendent Steven L. Walts left New York for Prince William in 2005.
Superintendent Steven L. Walts left New York for Prince William in 2005. (Margaret Thomas - Margaret Thomas - The Washington Post)
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By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 11, 2008

Steven L. Walts, the Prince William County school superintendent whose financial management of a New York school district is under investigation, is expected to give a deposition soon in a lawsuit alleging that he and his subordinates discriminated and retaliated against a teacher in the Greece Central School District, according to the plaintiff's lawyer.

The lawsuit, filed by elementary school teacher Mary T. Donlon, 57, names Walts and several other former Greece officials as defendants. Donlon alleges that Walts recommended her dismissal in 2005 after she complained to him that she was unfairly evaluated and that less-experienced, younger teachers were hired over her for summer school positions. Walts was the Greece superintendent until mid-2005.

The U.S. District Court case in New York comes after a rare determination by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that Walts's administration discriminated against Donlon on the basis of age.

His deposition has not been scheduled, but it could be as early as this month, said James Bilik, a senior counsel with New York State United Teachers, a federation of local unions that is representing Donlon. A trial could occur this year or in the first half of 2009, Bilik added.

Through a schools spokesman, Walts released a statement yesterday saying that he was aware he could be asked to give a deposition but did not know of a scheduled date.

The pending deposition comes at a sensitive time for Walts, who became Prince William superintendent in 2005, replacing the long-serving Edward L. Kelly. Since Walts's appointment, he has been trailed by escalating controversies in Greece.

Tonight, the Prince William School Board is scheduled to meet in a closed emergency session with its attorney to discuss a recent New York state comptroller's audit that determined Walts and his Greece administration used unauthorized funds to pay for building renovations and other capital improvement projects. Greece school officials have referred the matter to the state attorney general and the Monroe County district attorney's office for investigation.

Prince William board members have declined to comment in detail about the audit.

Yesterday, Milton C. Johns, the School Board chairman, said he was not aware of the pending deposition. "Frankly, those are things that happened in another place and another time," he said. "Steve is a consummate professional. I don't see any reason to be concerned. This has a lot to do with New York state politics and union politics and less about job performance."

Many parents and teachers like Walts's outgoing style and ambition to increase the school system's stature in Northern Virginia. Others view his problems in Greece as evidence that School Board members conducted a weak superintendent search in 2005. Board members did not visit Greece and had been unaware that more than a dozen teachers filed EEOC complaints against Walts's administration there. The School Board picked Walts after its first choice, Charles Q. Lindsey, then a superintendent in Knoxville, Tenn., turned down the job.

Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large), chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, said he has confidence that the School Board will investigate the New York audit thoroughly. "But if things get out of hand and [School Board members] don't take charge of the situation, the Board of Supervisors will have to do something," he said. "The School Board needs to look at everything very critically and openly and shouldn't take anybody's word for it that nothing was done wrong."

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