School board hopes to clear the air
DeSoto Board of Education members want to meet face-to-face with 70 district residents they named in a lawsuit a few weeks ago.
Board members scheduled a meeting for 7 p.m., Sept. 19 at Mill Valley High School. They decided to invite Shawnee city officials to discuss the possibility of selling the land to the city for use as a park.
The school district filed suit against the residents to clear the deed for the Monitcello Kindergarten Building, located at 71st Street, near Crest Street in Shawnee. The lawsuit has since been withdrawn and board members now hope to settle the issue outside the courtroom.
The kindergarten building was acquired by the DeSoto School District when it expanded to parts of Shawnee several years ago. It hasn't been used by the district since 1998 and, according to officials, would need major renovations and asbestos removal before it could be used again.
The district wants to sell the property, valued at approximately $100,000, and invest the money elsewhere. Before it can sell, however, the deed must be cleared.
The district owns most of the six acres outright, but the tract of land on which the building sits was deeded to the district's predecessor in 1923 by two women, with a stipulation that it could be used only for "school purposes."
If the land were used for anything other than a school in the future, the deed specifies, it would "revert back to the tract of land of which it was originally a part."
The original tract of land has since been subdivided into approximately 50 separate tracts of land owned by 70 different people. According to the law, each of the 70 residents could claim ownership to an equal portion of the two acres if the land were sold.
Vratil suggested several weeks ago the board pursue a quiet title to the land and the board agreed.
The attorney sent letters to all 70 property owners, informing them that they had been named a defendant in a lawsuit. Because each resident owned only a few feet of the land, Vratil anticipated most would not bother to answer the lawsuit and the district would get the land by default. He explained his reasoning in the letter he sent to the residents.
"The school district anticipates that many, if not all, of the property owners named as defendants herein will not respond to this petition, such that judgment by default will be entered by most, if not all, of the defendants," the letter read.
Two of the residents, however, came before the board on Aug. 7 to say they were insulted by the board's actions.
Steve Dickerson and Gary Rothrock told board members they would have signed a quit-claim deed had they been asked prior to the lawsuit. Both men said the matter was handled poorly by the board.
Board members said at the time they didn't know when they agreed to pursue a quiet title action that it would involve a lawsuit. They apologized to the men and told Vratil to dismiss the lawsuit.
They decided instead to ask each of the 70 residents to voluntarily sign a quit-claim deed, releasing their share of the property.
Vratil told board members Monday night that any resident who did not return the quit-claim deed would still be named in a lawsuit.
Board member Sandra Thierer said another threat of legal action would not be a good idea.
"If I was named in a lawsuit over something I didn't even know I had an interest in, I would be upset too," she said. "I don't think we should apologize to them and then follow up with a letter saying 'if you don't sign this then we're going to sue you.'"
Carol Farmer, the district's public relations director, suggested inviting the residents to a meeting.
"May I suggest a face-to-face meeting with these people," she said. "If you send a letter to 70 people, at least half of them will misunderstand your intent."