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Felix Adamo / The Californian

John Fox is one of three maintenance and operations administrators fired by Kern High School District.

The Kern High School District has agreed to pay two former employees a total of $900,000 to settle wrongful termination lawsuits.

John Fox and Clemon Williams Jr., former assistant directors in the district's maintenance and operations department, sued in September 2011, saying they were fired after calling attention to problems in the way maintenance contracts were awarded.

The lawsuits had sought several million dollars for lost wages, retirement benefits and emotional distress. The pair contended they were fired for whistleblowing.

KHSD said the settlement was not an admission of liability, but rather a strategic move by the district's insurer, Self-Insured Schools of California, better known as SISC.

"Given the critical mission KHSD has in educating students in our community, SISC, with the advice of trial counsel, concluded it was in the best interests of SISC and KHSD to settle these claims rather than face a prolonged trial which would have involved substantial time and monetary commitments," said SISC attorney Leonard Herr in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon.

The settlement agreement limits public comments about the case beyond the language of the agreements.

KHSD Superintendent Don Carter declined to comment. Michael Dolan, attorney for the plaintiffs, did not return telephone calls.

The agreement is to pay Fox $648,000, including $20,000 in legal costs. Williams is to receive $252,000, including $20,000 for legal fees.

The district had reached a tentative agreement in August with the two but settlement talks broke down at the last minute when attorneys were unable to agree on specifics.

Attorneys in the dispute finally reached a deal in November, but the specific terms of the settlement were disclosed for the first time Tuesday.

The plaintiffs said they noticed a change in the way contracts were being handled after the district hired Larry Patrick as the director of maintenance and operations in 2003.

They claimed that instead of putting construction and repair jobs out for formal bid or obtaining estimates for work in compliance with state law, the jobs were awarded to particular companies.

For instance, nearly all roofing projects went to Garland Roofing Co. and its subsidiary, Commercial Roofing Systems Inc.; all carpeting contracts went to Collins & Aikman, and Metro Floors Inc.

In the lawsuit, Fox and Williams criticized "needless, wasteful" spending in their department, as well as "kickbacks, bribes and improper gifts" construction companies allegedly were giving KHSD employees.

Patrick died in 2009. A year later his successor, Steve Tolin, placed Fox and Williams on paid administrative leave after they received negative performance evaluations. They were replaced and forced out in 2011, according to the lawsuit.

All of the companies named in the lawsuit had denied any wrongdoing.