Former county schools tech chief sues School Board, superintendent
Photo courtesy of Albemarle County Public Schools
Josh Mandell | Tuesday, October 02, 2018 at 9:40 p.m.
Updated Oct. 2, 2018, 9:40 p.m.
A former Albemarle County Public Schools administrator has filed a federal lawsuit against the county School Board and Superintendent Matt Haas.
Ira Socol, the division’s former chief technology and innovation officer, argues in the suit that Haas terminated his employment without a hearing, thus violating his civil right to due process under the 14th Amendment.
“I don’t know the motivations behind this,” Socol said. “It has confused me from the day it happened.”
Socol also is suing for breach of contract and defamation.
Socol was named interim director of LEAD — the school system’s Department of Learning Engineering, Access and Design — in 2017. Haas promoted him to the technology and innovation position last spring.
The school division announced Aug. 1 that Socol no longer was employed there but did not explain his departure.
Jeffrey R. Adams, an attorney at Wharton Aldhizer & Weaver, is representing Socol in the suit, which was filed Monday.
“The school division terminated [Socol’s] employment and sullied his reputation without giving him a hearing or a meaningful opportunity to defend himself, in violation of his due process rights under the 14th Amendment ... and its own personnel procedures,” Adams said. “Accordingly, he has no choice but to defend himself in the courts.”
In the complaint, Socol claims he was punished wrongfully for unauthorized purchases of school furniture that the School Board later voted to authorize at its June 14 meeting.
Socol’s complaint alleges that Haas informed him of his termination at a July 27 meeting.
“Dr. Haas stated, as soon as Mr. Socol sat down, that ‘your time with Albemarle County has come to an end,’” the complaint reads. “When Mr. Socol objected, Dr. Haas told Mr. Socol that, ‘you have no rights here.’”
Socol has asked for a trial by jury in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia and requested the court to award damages in an amount to be determined at trial.
Schools spokesman Phil Giaramita said Tuesday that the division was just beginning to review the allegations in Socol’s complaint.
“While it is our policy not to discuss pending litigation matters, we are looking forward to the opportunity to refute these allegations in court,” Giaramita said.
The furniture in question was purchased for the county’s new high school student center, Albemarle Tech, located in the Seminole Place facility near the Shops at Stonefield. The center also houses a professional development space and offices for LEAD.
The School Board voted, 4-3, to ratify $90,316.92 in school furniture orders from 11 retailers after discussing the matter in two closed sessions. Katrina Callsen, Jason Buyaki and David Oberg voted against it.
Albemarle’s purchasing rules require a competitive sealed bidding process for procurements over $50,000. It also forbids employees from splitting procurements “for the purpose of reducing the estimated cost of the procurement to below the $50,000 threshold.”
In the complaint, Socol argues that the furniture was distributed among three projects — Albemarle Tech, the professional development space and LEAD offices — in amounts smaller than $50,000. He claims that this understanding was shared by other division administrators on a steering committee for the facility.
“While the purchases were happening, no one in the school division saw it as one project,” Socol said in an email.
For procurements between $5,000 and $50,000, Albemarle County government departments must obtain at least three written price quotations from vendors.
Receipts obtained in a public records request show that, among other furniture purchases, LEAD employees placed five orders between May 16 and May 18 on Wayfair.com that were each between $4,000 and $5,000.
“There was no intention or no effort to stay under that [$5,000] amount,” Socol said.
The lawsuit claims that Socol’s termination was arbitrary and inconsistent with how other employees have been treated.
“There have been other employees who have committed similar alleged violations of the [school division’s] procurement policies who were not terminated and, in some cases, not disciplined in any way,” the complaint reads.
Socol joined the division in 2013 as a program manager for its Design 2015 initiative, which focused on project-based and collaborative learning programs across schools.
Socol recently co-authored “Timeless Learning: How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-Based Thinking Change Schools” with former Albemarle Superintendent Pam Moran and Chad Ratliff, principal of the county’s Murray High School and Community Public Charter School.
Moran retired on June 30. In September, she founded an education consultancy with Socol.
“Nothing that went wrong with this [situation] occurred before June 30,” Socol said. “This is about Matt Haas.”
Haas declined to comment on the lawsuit.
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