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Federal Trial Begins For Fired Kansas City School Superintendent

September 17, 1996

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) _ When Walter Marks took disability leave from his job as Kansas City’s superintendent of schools, he blamed a bad back that left him hunched and shuffling with the help of a cane.

But a TV crew that followed him to Florida caught him on video tossing the cane in the back seat of his car and hauling lumber and boxes at his partly built home.

After Marks returned to Missouri _ leaning heavily on the cane once more _ he was suspended, then fired.

Now he is suing, claiming the school district violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by firing him because of his disability _ the back trouble as well as emotional difficulties he didn’t initially disclose.

Marks said Monday in federal court that he began experiencing emotional problems at his Kansas City apartment one evening in December 1994.

``It seemed like the whole world just caved in on me that evening,″ Marks said. ``I knew I was in trouble emotionally ... I knew I needed medical help, somebody to help me get out of the emotional state I was in.″

However, school district lawyer Michael Waldeck in his opening statement said Marks’ firing was more due to questionable expenses and the amount of time Marks spent on a consulting business.

Marks used a credit card given him by the school district ``as his personal bank at the district’s expense,″ Waldeck said, and was putting together a consulting business ``at a time when he said he was totally disabled.″

The federal lawsuit is being tried in Jefferson City, 160 miles east of Kansas City, because of heavy publicity.

Marks, 58, is seeking $482,000 in lost pay and pension, plus an unspecified amount for pain and suffering and punitive damages. He was being paid $140,000 a year as superintendent and still receives $7,000 a month in disability payments. He had more than a year left on his contract when he was fired in April 1995.

Later evidence is expected to include videotape shot by a crew from Kansas City station KCTV, which trailed Marks to Florida in December 1994. His wife worked in Florida at the time, and the couple now live there.

The tapes, broadcast in January, showed Marks carrying luggage and pulling a very large box from the back of a vehicle. He made more use of the cane when he returned to Kansas City later that month, when the TV station videotaped him bent and shuffling as he was helped into the back seat of a car at the airport.

The board suspended him Feb. 1, 1995, citing $11,000 in disputed expenses, and he was fired the following April.

Marks claimed in his lawsuit that in 1992 he began receiving treatment for back pain he attributed to stress and a mild arthritic condition. He said he developed stress-induced depression in 1994.

Marks also claimed he told the school board only about his back problems in 1994 because he was afraid that if he mentioned the emotional trouble, it would be exposed publicly.

He said he had poor relations with school board president Edward Newsome, who was a community activist before being elected to the board in 1994: ``There was a lot of fear on my part.″

Marks was hired in 1991 to head the Kansas City School District as it moved into the latter years of a federally supervised desegregation program.

He was chosen in part because of his experience in his previous job in Richmond, Calif., where he created a nationally known magnet school program. But he was fired from that job after the district ran into financial trouble and needed a $29 million bailout from the state.

In 1984, Marks resigned as superintendent of the Wake County School District in Raleigh, N.C., in a controversy over mismanagement of school finances.

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