BRADENTON -- The Manatee County School district is being sued over two recent hot-button issues.
Sarasota Security Patrol, the company that provided security officers for the district's elementary schools this year before the contract was canceled, and Kate Smith, a local parent and attorney who raised concerns about the district's recess policy, both filed suits against the district at the end of October.
Sarasota Security Patrol is seeking in excess of $15,000, claiming that Superintendent Rick Mills did not have the authority to cancel the contract and that the district has an outstanding invoice with the company. Smith wants a ruling that the district violated its own policy and is seeking an injunction to keep the district from further violations.
The district has yet to be served with the Sarasota Security Patrol lawsuit, said staff attorney Mitchell Teitelbaum.
"Upon proper service, this matter will be defended," he said.
Smith's lawsuit has already been served and has been referred to outside counsel, Teitelbaum said. Teitelbaum had no further comment on the lawsuits.
In July, Mills announced the district had additional money in the budget and would hire a company to provide security in the district's elementary schools, which are not served by school resource officers. The board approved hiring Sarasota Security Patrol with a $1-million per year, three-year contract on Sept. 9, after tabling the issue at an Aug. 26 meeting.
Officers from Sarasota Security Patrol began in 31 of the district's 33 elementary schools on Sept. 17, and on Sept. 25, Citizens for Sunshine, a nonprofit group, sued the district. The suit claimed the district violated the Sunshine Law by not properly advertising a meeting where committee members reviewed the companies vying for the contract.
On Oct. 1, Mills invoked a 30-day cancellation clause in the contract, saying no further board action could remedy the situation. The board approved a $10,775 settlement with Citizens for Sunshine on Oct. 14. The officers served their last day in district schools on Halloween, the same day Sarasota Security Patrol filed the lawsuit against the district.
The three-count lawsuit claims the superintendent is not authorized by law to cancel the contract, says the superintendent was also not authorized by the contract to cancel the contract and for a breach of contract by failing to pay an invoice within 30 days. The lawsuit claims the superintendent canceled the contract in bad faith and to make the lawsuit from Citizens for Sunshine moot.
"The plaintiff contends that because the Superintendent had no power or authority to cancel the contract without express action of the School Board, the Notice of Termination was not valid or effective," the lawsuit claims.
The suit claims the district owes the company at least $47,000 from an invoice filed on Sept. 29 that has yet to be paid. The contract stated invoices must be paid within 30 days. At the time of the filing, the invoice had not been paid, according to the lawsuit.
Smith, a local attorney and parent of two children at Virgil Mills Elementary School, filed a lawsuit on Oct. 31, after speaking to the school board and district officials over concerns that the district was violating its own policy on recess.
Florida State Statute stipulates that each school district must provide 150 minutes of physical education each week for students in kindergarten through grade 5. The Manatee County School District 2014-15 student progression plan states the elementary schools must provide 30 consecutive minutes of physical education daily for students.
"Either way you slice it, it wasn't done properly. I don't know why I had to file a lawsuit. I don't know why I had to expend my own personal finances," Smith said to the board during Tuesday night's meeting. "I hope that we can resolve it quickly, amicably, get recess reinstated where it belongs in our schools and do what's right for our children."
District officials previously said they have not broken any laws and that there may have been changes in the amount of dedicated recess time because of an increase in physical education instruction in elementary schools.
Smith is seeking a declaration that the board is violating its policy and is requesting a temporary and permanent injunction to keep the district from further violating its physical education policy or that the district be ordered to return PE and recess to all the elementary schools.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.