Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Paul Gausman speaks during a recent press conference about school funding in Nebraska. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)
LINCOLN — Lincoln’s new superintendent filed a lawsuit against his former employer that made an allegation that has since proven false, he acknowledged in a court filing last week.
Paul Gausman, whom Lincoln Public Schools hired from Iowa’s Sioux City Community Schools in 2022, sued the Iowa district this January, alleging violations of open meetings laws.
In his lawsuit, Gausman called for the judge to remove from office four school board members with whom he had clashed: Dan Greenwell, Jan George, Taylor Goodvin and Bob Michaelson. That’s more than half of the seven-member board.
Gausman sued after the board filed a complaint with the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners alleging he had tried to bribe or induce two incoming school board members in November 2021 to back his pick for board president.
“I appreciate the question,” Gausman said through a spokeswoman. “I have no comments on matters involving litigation at the advice of counsel.”
The Lincoln school board has publicly supported Gausman and his job performance, applauding his work. This weekend, they declined to comment on the litigation.
Part of Gausman’s lawsuit alleged that the Sioux City school board had failed to properly notify him of a January 2022 meeting or its purpose, which was to discuss the superintendent’s job performance.
His lawsuit said the board “did not notify either Dr. Gausman or the public that Defendants intended to go into closed session to discuss him or a complaint….”
But his new court filing acknowledges what a Nebraska Examiner public records request had already shown, that Gausman not only knew about the meeting and its purpose but that he had requested it.
Documents obtained as part of that request, including emails and calendar invites, were included in the district’s legal response after Gausman pushed for a summary judgment.
Gausman shifted positions on the meeting in a Sept. 5 affidavit, saying, “It is true that I requested and was notified that there would be a closed session on that date.”
More than just one issue
He argues that the board discussed more than was allowed under the Iowa law the board cited to close the meeting, particularly a potential complaint against his Iowa administrator’s license.
Greenwell, the board president, said in an affidavit that the board did not discuss anything beyond the scope of the law.
Two attorneys familiar with Iowa public meetings law told the Examiner the district could have discussed the complaint under the law. Statute 21.5 (1)(i) lets the board close meetings “to evaluate the professional competency of an individual whose appointment, hiring, performance or discharge is being considered.”
Court documents show the board filed the license complaint months later, in December 2022.
Gausman’s lawsuit also targets a November 2022 board meeting where he alleges the board did not make clear it was discussing the potential complaint against him. Gausman, who was by then working in Lincoln, said the public deserved notice.
The district has argued that Gausman was no longer its employee and so the agenda and public notice requirements were not the same. The board also contended that Iowa law prohibits the board from publicly discussing complaints to the state board of examiners.
Sioux City schools complaint
The Sioux City complaint alleges Gausman approached two board members-elect at a public place in Des Moines and offered to make changes they wanted to school operations, activities or programs if they backed his favored candidate for board president over a critic.
Iowa state law defines bribery of public officials as offering promises of action, benefits or something of value to someone serving, elected or selected to serve, according to the letter from the school district to the board of examiners.
The complaint also alleges that Gausman obtained confidential information about a March 2022 closed board session from a board member and shared some of the information with staff. Sharing certain information from a closed session, including information about personnel issues, is against Iowa law.
Gausman had been announced as Lincoln’s next superintendent in February 2022.
The Iowa disciplinary board found the allegations against Gausman credible enough to refer them for a hearing with an administrative judge.
In previous filings and comments, Gausman has argued that he is the target of members of an activist board that is trying to tarnish his professional reputation.
Greenwell has called the allegations “substantive and serious.”
No date has yet been scheduled for the hearing, which will be handled by the Iowa Attorney General’s Office. Gausman could negotiate a settlement. If he agreed to give up his administrator’s license in Iowa, it would not necessarily affect his Nebraska license.
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