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November 13. 2013 11:36PM

New Manchester school board member not talking about lawsuit against district

MANCHESTER — The newly elected school board member who filed a lawsuit against the district shortly before the election is not responding to questions about the case.

Constance "Connie" Van Houten filed the suit approximately a week before the election, according to documents at Hillsborough County Superior Court. She did not indicate that she planned to file or had filed the lawsuit during her campaign for the Ward 12 school board seat.

Since the New Hampshire Union Leader first reported the case, Van Houten has not returned repeated calls.

Van Houten's attorney, John Skinner, said he was handling inquiries about the case. "We're naturally concerned about the adverse and strange media reaction to what we thought was a pretty routine matter," he said. "As far as that's concerned, I'm here to handle that, but naturally as a newly elected representative, she's available to respond to other concerns her constituents may have."
The lawsuit against the Manchester School District alleges that Van Houten, who taught in the district for more than 30 years, was retaliated against in the spring of 2012 when she raised concerns about a colleague not working a full shift. At the time, Van Houten was teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) part-time at the Manchester Adult Education Center, which is run by the district. The suit charges that after she made the complaints, Van Houten's work was made more difficult and that she was not rehired for the fall term.

Skinner said the district's actions were a violation of the RSA 275-E, the "Whistle Blowers Protection Act."

He said Van Houten only took legal action reluctantly after efforts to resolve the matter with the district did not work out.

"I tried my best to resolve this prior to litigation," Skinner said, adding that when this effort was unsuccessful, Van Houten "insisted that it be done before the election."
Skinner maintained that the lawsuit didn't represent a conflict-of-interest for a sitting school board member.
"There's sort of a misunderstanding about what conflict-of-interest actually is," he said. "If the suit came before the board, there would be a conflict, and she would recuse herself... Beyond that, the heart of the suit is about the waste of taxpayer dollars. That's the kind of thing the school board is going to be concerned with."
School Superintendent Debra Livingston said the suit would be handled by the district's attorney and that she couldn't respond to the allegations.

tsiefer@unionleader.com


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