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Corr’s attorneys strike back, say board’s allegations are weak

Published: Wednesday, November 29, 2017 @ 11:50 AM
By: Jeremy P. Kelley - Staff Writer

The attorneys for Rhonda Corr struck back Wednesday, saying the allegations against her by the Dayton school board are weak and don’t make sense in the wake of a glowing performance review issued by the board on Oct. 3.

“We believed that Dayton deserved a response to the accusations being made because we frankly just don’t believe, number one, that many of them are accurate, or maybe they’re half-truths, and second, that they wouldn’t rise to the level of a contractual violation,” attorney Jon Paul Rion said.

DPS attorney Jyllian Bradshaw was in contract negotiations and could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

RELATED: District spells out allegations against Corr

Corr was placed on paid administrative leave last week, and Dayton Public Schools released a pre-disciplinary hearing notice Tuesday night that made several allegations against her. Some were related to her day-to-day work habits — alleging she created a hostile working environment, that she isn’t truthful with colleagues and fails to take responsibility for her actions.

Specifically, the hearing notice alleged Corr slept during an August session with the federal mediator, just two days before the teachers union’s strike deadline. And it said she claimed and received a death benefit for life insurance on a domestic partner even though she was married to a different woman.

Corr is scheduled to meet with hearing officer D. Jeffrey Ireland (not a DPS employee) on Dec. 13, after which the school board will consider the hearing officer’s report before deciding on whether to terminate Corr’s contract.

8 WEEKS AGO: School board gave Corr glowing evaluation

Rion at Wednesday’s press conference addressed the issues of Corr’s marriage and sleeping during a mediation session. Regarding the mediation session, Rion said Corr showed up even though she was sick, and within 24 hours, had completed negotiations that avoided a strike.

“How would that be a negative, somebody showing up to work even though they are not well physically and staying until the job is done?” Rion said. “How could that be anything but a positive reflection of someone’s commitment to the school board?”

On the marriage, Rion said at the time Corr filed documentation with the district, she believed she was legally single, based on information she received from Massachusetts officials.

“She has been living as a single person for years and has been filing as single on her taxes,” Rion said. “She in good faith filled out the forms as she believed her status to be at the time.”

RELATED: Report said Corr violated one discrimination policy

Laws on recognition of same-sex marriage have varied by state in recent years.

“She contacted the clerk’s office in Massachusetts to determine the legitimacy of the ceremony that had taken place and received information that it was not in accordance with the law of Massachusetts,” Rion said. “She acted on information she received from the authorities.”

Montgomery County Common Pleas Court records show that Corr filed for divorce on Oct. 3, 2017, from a Cheryl Dzuro, whom she married in Provincetown, Mass., in July 2007.

Officials at the Provincetown, Mass., Town Clerk’s office said Wednesday they have a copy of a legal marriage certificate from July 2007 between Dzuro and Rhonda Ann Saegert. In Corr’s previous jobs with the Chicago and Indianapolis school districts, she went by Rhonda Corr-Saegert.

RELATED: Acting chief Lolli says DPS improving in classroom

Rion repeatedly raised the issue of Corr’s Oct. 3 performance review, which includes a dozen places where the school board “applauds,” “commends,” and otherwise praises Corr’s actions. There are no negative comments in the evaluation, which is signed by Corr and board President Robert Walker.

Rion asked how the school board’s opinion of Corr could have swung so wildly in seven weeks, and suggested there could be political motivations. The board is in the midst of a major makeover.

One seat changed in the past month when Adil Baguirov resigned and William Harris was chosen to serve out the final six weeks of his term.

Then, Harris and three others — Mohamed Al-Hamdani, Jocelyn Rhynard and Karen Wick-Gagnet — were elected to the board earlier this month. Each will begin serving a four-year term in January.

RELATED: A look back at DPS’ turbulent 16 months under Corr

“I’m not here to make an accusation. Except that I can see no other reason, no other motivation,” Rion said. “When you have such a glowing review on Oct. 3 that applauds Rhonda Corr’s work in so many different ways across the board … then certain individuals change, and the power structure changes, and all of a sudden we have a totally different response, it just raises our suspicions.”

Attorney David Duwel, who is also representing Corr, said he believes the school board is not properly following the provisions of the contract in seeking to discipline Corr.

“We believe that the contract clearly delineates all the various reasons why her employment could be terminated,” said Duwel, who represented Kettering schools treasurer Steve Clark in a high-profile 2014 termination case. “And there has to be just case for that termination. There is no just cause for Rhonda’s termination because none of the provisions in the contract have been violated.”

Corr’s contract says “cause” for termination shall include, among other things, “material violation of board policies.” The school district’s hearing notice argues that Corr violated board policies dealing with the superintendent’s job duties, staff ethics and staff conduct.

RELATED: Dayton schools improve long-term busing problems

Duwel said he believes when the matter is finished, Corr will be back in the superintendent’s job. Although he said the resolution in this type of case “is usually some kind of settlement,” he cited examples in other instances where employees have returned to their jobs.

Rion said he wants to better understand the case before he says whether the goal is to put Corr back in the superintendent’s post. Corr declined to speak at the press conference.