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July 8, 2004

Former head of school for deaf settles with State Board

From:, ID - Jul 8, 2004

Ramos given $150,000; wife agrees not to sue

Gregory Hahn
The Idaho Statesman | Edition Date: 07-08-2004

The state Board of Education has paid Angel Ramos $150,000 in cash and given him all claims to a potentially lucrative software application he developed while he was superintendent of the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind in Gooding.

In exchange, Ramos resigned from the school and he and his wife, Marla, agreed not to sue the State Board, which put him on paid leave and started trying to fire him almost a year ago.

Ramos cut the deal last month and the State Board released the terms to The Idaho Statesman this week under a public records request. Though $40,000 was paid by the state's insurance, the rest came from the school's almost $7.5 million budget.

The agreement followed an internal hearing on whether the state had "adequate cause" to fire Ramos. Former Supreme Court Justice Charles McDevitt, hired to hear the case, determined that the board did not, and he recommended that Ramos be reinstated.

Ramos was the school's first deaf superintendent — he was born with hearing but he lost it as a child. He went on to become a Fulbright scholar and a well-known educator of the deaf. Before coming to Idaho, he ran the Hispanic Deaf Education Project at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.

He oversaw the school and the agency's outreach programs for exactly two years before being put on paid leave last July 30. While at the agency, Ramos made $84,500 a year and headed the 80-student school and the outreach programs that affect around 620 students.

In an e-mail interview, Ramos said he was "shocked" that the board released the settlement, which was agreed to in private, though the hearing process had been open. "This is another clear example of the arrogant nature of the state," he said. "The law is pretty clear that they cannot violate a confidentiality agreement and yet they violated the law."

But the board's chief staff member, Gary Stivers, said the agreement was always subject to state laws, and as a state agency controlled by the Idaho Public Records Act, the board must disclose financial transactions.

"With any kind of agreement, you can only agree to things that the law provides," Stivers said.

The deal also stopped any threat of lawsuit from Marla Ramos, who was fired from her job as development director at the school's foundation because of the appearance of a conflict between her job and her husband's.

"Only a fraction of the settlement was earmarked for my wife," Ramos said. "My wife wanted this over and once I got the amount that I wanted, $150,000, my wife agreed to drop her claim against the state."

Ramos said he and his wife set aside about $50,000 to pay their legal bills to Blaine County attorneys Keith Roark and Cynthia Woolley.

She will keep her job at the College of Southern Idaho, he said, and the two plan to move to Jerome. He's also applied to run schools in Utah and Pennsylvania, he said.

"For myself," Ramos said, "I am focusing all of my energies on the development and distribution of Opti-School" — the software the state has given him full rights to.

Ramos hopes the Opti-School system will let deaf- and hearing-impaired children learn at school or at home over the Internet. It was being developed on the Gooding school's campus when the state board pulled the plug on the program. Stivers said the project had cost $120,000 already and was going to cost almost that much each year to keep developing it.

"We're an educational entity, not a research entity," he said.

At least some of the fight between Ramos and the state may have been over whether the school was enough of an education entity.

In writing that he didn't think the state had cause to fire Ramos, McDevitt placed much of the blame for the whole confrontation on people and staff at the school who didn't want to change from a "custodial" institution to a more aggressive "educational" one, which Ramos said he was charged to create when he was hired.

McDevitt quoted one expert who testified as saying a "custodial" atmosphere was based on the idea that deaf children have "low expectations in life."

Ramos clashed with others at the school over lots of issues, but one was his increase of study time from half an hour every day to an hour and a half, plus another half-hour of reading.

Ramos said the school has to find a way to increase the reading and other skills of its students.

"After years of attendance at ISDB, these students do not have the skills to take regular college courses," he said. "This is nothing to be proud of. Why are ISDB students graduating with only minimal reading, writing and math skills?" Plus, with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Ramos said, the state could face lawsuits if these students aren't given the same education as everyone else.

Stivers countered that interim Superintendent Harv Lyter and others at the school have been working to improve the education there, and a lot has taken place to align the school with state standards and to improve student performance. He said several former teachers and leaders at the school disagreed that it has been too "custodial."

"I think that depends," he said, "on the perspective of who's talking." Stivers said the board will probably begin looking for a new superintendent later this year, but no plans are set.

Board member Blake Hall, an Idaho Falls attorney, said he hadn't yet explored whether the questions raised by McDevitt showed a problem that needed to be addressed.

"My impression is yes, there is division down at the school and that there has been for some time," he said.

Angel Ramos' three years in Gooding

Here's a look at Angel Ramos' three years at the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind, which ended recently when a hearing officer said the state had no cause to fire Ramos. Instead, Ramos agreed to resign in exchange for $150,000 and control of a software program developed while he was at the school.


August: Ramos becomes the school's superintendent at a salary of $84,500 a year.

October: Ramos' wife, Marla, is hired as the development director of the school's foundation. In the seven years previous, the foundation had directed $7,000 to the school. In the nearly two years Marla Ramos worked there, the foundation raised $100,000 and gave $52,000 to the school. But at least some of the fundraising tactics — auctions of school-owned furniture and cars — were found by state auditors to have violated state surplus property rules.


Between the time he was hired and the first complaints in 2003, Ramos approved around $16,000 in improvements to the superintendent's residence at the school. Ramos said the changes were to make the home more deaf-friendly and to allow it to be used to host students and others. The hearing officer found nothing inappropriate in that.

Also, with the help of the school's computer facilities, Ramos worked on the Opti-School program, which was being designed to help better educate deaf students.


February: The State Board receives an anonymous tip of "management problems" at the school, and follow-up interviews with mid-management staff find similar complaints of fiscal mismanagement, misuse of state property and more.

March: The state begins more fully investigating the complaints.

June: A Corrective Action Plan is given to Ramos, and though he disagrees with firing his wife from the foundation and abandoning Opti-School, he tells staff that he's going to follow the plan.

July 30: After more contact with mid-management, the state puts Ramos on paid administrative leave and begins the process to fire him.


February: An internal hearing determines that the State Board did not have "adequate cause" to fire Ramos.

June: After an appeal of that decision, the state board agrees to pay Angel and Marla Ramos $150,000, give them all rights to Opti-School, and let them stay in the superintendent's residence until Aug. 10 in exchange for his resignation and their agreement not to sue the state.

© 2004 The Idaho Statesman