CLEVELAND — Lorain Schools Superintendent Jeff Graham filed a complaint Friday in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court against his former employer.
According to the complaint, Graham is accusing key players in Parma Schools of defamation and intimidation after a May 24, 2016, letter that blamed Graham and former Parma Treasurer Daniel Bowman for financial problems in the district.
The lawsuit names the Parma school board, Parma Superintendent Carl Hilling, Treasurer David Crowley, communications consultant Ray Sposet, current board President John Tenerowicz and former board members Karen Dendorfer, Kathleen Petro and Lynn Halloran.
Graham hinted about a lawsuit in October when he said in a letter to the editor published on the SouthwestSentry.com website dated Oct. 3 and submitted by Lorain Schools spokeswoman Erin Gadd — who also served in the same position for Graham in Parma — that he had a response to the allegations that he and Bowman are to blame for the then-$15 million budget shortfall. However, Graham said he was going to delay his response until after Parma district residents voted on a Nov. 8 renewal levy, which passed.
“Over the last few months, members of the Parma Board of Education and their current superintendent have made public allegations about how the district reached their current financial situation,” Graham’s letter said. “Some have blamed my tenure as superintendent and Dan Bowman as previous treasurer for the difficulties and claimed surprise at the financial challenges.”
Graham went on to say he is confident that he and Bowman will be able to demonstrate that the members of the Parma Board of Education are sharing disinformation and that they are fully aware that the information is false.
Graham left Parma to come to Lorain in 2015, but, according to the complaint, when he started at the Cuyahoga County district in 2010, it was facing a $3.7 million deficit for the next school year.
The district passed a new money levy in 2011, but the complaint said Graham repeatedly stated to board members that (while) the district would be financially secure through 2017 … the district would need to pass a new money levy to pay its bills in 2018.”
According to the May 24 letter the school board and Hilling sent to parents and community members in the district, Graham and Bowman didn’t accurately portray the district’s finances, including costs for technology upgrades, and didn’t probably plan a STEM program, leaving a “devastating impact.”
While Parma Schools spokesman Dan Rajkovich said since the litigation is pending he couldn’t comment, Graham’s attorney, Subodh Chandra, said the district board members and superintendent made the “defamatory statements knowing that they were false and with reckless disregard for their falsity.”
“Parma school district may be in a leadership crisis right now,” he said. “But that does not mean the board can blame its current problems on its former superintendent. Before Dr. Graham arrived, the district had failed to pass a new levy on seven attempts. Not only did the district pass a new levy under Dr. Graham’s leadership, but he also brought the district into the 21st century by upgrading its technological infrastructure. He was an exemplary superintendent.”
According to the complaint, Graham is seeking damages, interest, legal fees and injunction relief.
The case has been assigned to Judge Pamela Barker.
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