One of the last remaining lawsuits haunting the Manatee County School District came to a close Tuesday.
A $400,000 settlement agreement to end the lawsuit with Bob Gagnon, a former Manatee High School principal and former assistant superintendent; and his wife, Melissa Gagnon, an assistant principal at Braden River High School, who began pursuing legal action against the board in February 2015. Board Chairwoman Karen Carpenter, a named defendant in the case, did not vote.
After about 45 minutes of discussion, including hearing from the public, the remaining four board members voted unanimously on the settlement, meaning the case is closed.
“At some point the district has to move forward,” board member Bob Gause said.
Board member John Colon called his vote a “business decision.”
“My basic opinion is this would be the best settlement for the district, for our children and for our staff. And that’s the most important thing to me,” he said.
John Romano, Gagnon’s lead counsel, said Gagnon is a good family man, and said during public comment before the vote the Gagnons wanted the settlement approved.
“This is just a type of thing where a settlement or a resolution makes sense,” Romano said before the vote.
The first suit was partially dismissed by Circuit Court Judge John Lakin in July 2015 but left open to amend. The amended suit was filed in October 2015, and a portion of the suit was ruled eligible to go forward in January by Circuit Court Judge Stephen Dakan.
The case arises from Gagnon’s dismissal from the Manatee County School District during the Roderick Frazier child abuse scandal.
The Gagnons filed a defamation case against the school board and individually against then-Superintendent Rick Mills; Troy Pumphrey, district investigator at the time; former school board member Julie Aranibar; and Carpenter.
So far, only the Gagnons have signed the settlement. The settlement includes space for signatures from all parties.
If approved, the district would have 21 days to pay the entire settlement amount to a trust account in the name of the Romano Law Group, the attorneys representing the Gagnons.
Community members on both sides of the issue spoke to the school board Tuesday.
Alice Kaddatz and her daughter, who also settled a lawsuit with the school district over the Gagnon case, were opposed to the school board paying Gagnon. Alice’s daughter said she suffered two years of abuse while at Manatee High School when Gagnon was principal. She then asked the board how it could even considering paying Gagnon.
“I cannot go to the grocery store, home improvement store or shopping in general without being stopped,” Alice said. “No one is handing me over $400,000.”
The Kaddatz were paid $210,000 to settle a lawsuit with the district.
Scott Bassett, a former school advisory council chairman at Manatee High School, called the settlement amount a “bargain” for the district in the aftermath of what had happened.
“Healing will not be complete until this district does justice to Bob Gagnon,” he said.
Linda Boone, who retired from Manatee High School this year, said Gagnon deserved more of an apology from the school board for the hardship his family faced.
“I feel there is not enough money anywhere to pay back Bob and his family for all that they have suffered and so unjustly,” Boone said.