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Published: Thursday, 1/26/2012 - Updated: 3 years ago

TPS to pay ex-staffer $165,000

Board agrees former teacher wrongfully fired from district

'I believe there was certainly an error on the part of the district here in how Ms. Ahrens was treated,' said Keith Wilkowski, TPS attorney. 'I believe there was certainly an error on the part of the district here in how Ms. Ahrens was treated,' said Keith Wilkowski, TPS attorney.

Toledo Public Schools will pay a former teacher $165,000 after the district fired her a month after offering her a contract, claiming she had been mistakenly employed.

The Toledo Board of Education on Tuesday approved a settlement with Sandra Ahrens, who sued the district, the board, and then-Personnel Director Joseph Sansbury in 2010, saying she was wrongfully fired from her job as a kindergarten teacher at Marshall Elementary.

The parties reached the settlement through mediation, according to court documents.

TPS attorney Keith Wilkowski said the district agreed Ms. Ahrens was wronged, and settled the case because a trial could have resulted in a significantly larger sum. The district's insurance company covered $100,000 of the settlement, he said.

"I believe there was certainly an error on the part of the district here in how Ms. Ahrens was treated," he said. "If the case did proceed to a trial, really the only question is what is the amount of money that would properly compensate her for what happened."

Ms. Ahrens declined comment Wednesday through her attorney, Joseph Jordan.

According to the civil complaint, Ms. Ahrens was hired by TPS in 1998, and was a substitute teacher for several years. The Board of Education in the fall of 2009 approved a contract for Ms. Ahrens to teach as a full-time kindergarten teacher at Marshall, effective Sept. 2 of that year. She was to receive a salary of about $48,000.

Mr. Sansbury sent Ms. Ahrens a letter of congratulations Oct. 6, according to the complaint.

There was some dispute at the time, Mr. Wilkowski said, about Ms. Ahrens' time in the Intern Board of Review program, also known as the Toledo Plan. New teachers in TPS serve as interns, and are peer-reviewed by senior Toledo Federation of Teachers members. The senior teachers recommend to the review board if interns should have contracts renewed; if the board chooses nonrenewal, the teacher cannot be rehired as a full-time teacher.

Some personnel officials believed after the fact, Mr. Wilkowski said, that Ms. Ahrens should not have been hired because of her experience with the Intern Board of Review. Mr. Sansbury sent a letter Oct. 13, 2009, telling Ms. Ahrens that that day was her last at Marshall, according to the complaint. He confiscated her keys and had her wages stop that day, without the knowledge of board members.

Ms. Ahrens sued, claiming among other things that she was fired without cause and without a hearing. Mr. Wilkowski agreed, and said the district would have had to have cause to fire her midcontract, and follow proper procedure if it felt she was hired in error. "There's a process that is afforded to an individual," he said. "That just wasn't complied with here."

Mr. Wilkowski said district officials believed a jury trial could have resulted in a significant award to Ms. Ahrens, and consequently reached an agreement with her. Procedures were changed in the district so that personnel officials are better aware if prospective employees have been previously employed in the district.

District officials said that, as far as they knew, Mr. Sansbury did not face discipline by TPS. He had retired before the events and had been rehired on a two-year contract; that contract was up in July, 2010. He is no longer employed by the Toledo school district.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086.

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