D161 officials will not seek written legal opinion over dismissal of employees
Summit Hill officials weighed in on whether the superintendent could seek written legal opinion regarding the dismissal — and rehiring — of three employees at the Board of Education’s July 12 meeting.
Board action taken at a recent meeting was part of the district’s reorganization process and subsequently met by concerns raised by the board’s two newest members, Joy Murphy and Jim Martin. During a closed-session meeting held in April, the board decided to honorably dismiss three employees. Board policy stipulates that educational support personnel can be cut by means of a reduction in force — which allows employment to be terminated only through resignation or retirement — a non-reduction in force dismissal or a reduction in force dismissal. “Given the choice of the three, the reduction in force and recall parameters applied as they’re laid out in the board policy,” Board President Rich Marron said. Related school code lays out a procedure for dismissing and rehiring employees if the discharge is honorable. If the district creates jobs they would qualify for within the next school year, those individuals have to be recalled. “I believe the board policy lays this out fairly clearly, and do not believe the legal opinion is necessary at all,” Marron said. The district is not facing any lawsuits in regards to its reorganization process, Superintendent Barb Rains said. Still, Murphy questioned the manner in which the district can dismiss such employees and said officials reduced the positions, but the staff wasn’t reduced. “There was three people, but one of those three people did absorb part of another job responsibility of somebody else,” Murphy said. “There’s three people, but he got another part of another person’s job. That salary did not decrease, that salary increased.” Marron said Murphy doesn’t understand the full picture. Rains said she recognized that employees may sometimes absorb the responsibilities of an individual who was dismissed, and said it’s based on many factors, though it’s not necessarily a typical occurrence. Murphy wanted to know what legal knowledge was known among members of the board. Board Member George Leonard said the board policy spells it out clearly and refuted the idea of needing to seek a legal opinion. “It’s better for an employee of an educational institution to be riffed,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do. In addition to that, it’s in the board policy.” Typically, when an employee is dismissed, their exit is equitable to being honorably discharged. A dishonorable dismissal presents the contrary. “It still doesn’t seem right,” Murphy said. “When we’ve reduced staff before, we had to reduce 10 percent of staff in order to [qualify as] reduction of force.” Marron said the 10 percent reduction in staff applied to certified teachers, not educational support professionals. Martin said he intends to use his ability to review previous closed meetings, and said it will help to “put this question to bed about the action that was taken on April 12.” “Making sense of [just] that, I just don’t understand why it was done,” Martin said. Marron took exception to Martin’s use of the board member comments section of the public meeting to announce the course of action he plans to take and suggested that he start by reviewing the audio for the open meeting and related minutes. “Our board policy — should you choose to read it — states that one should carefully consider why they’re listening to the tapes,” he said. “To listen to them because you don’t trust another board member about an item that you were not seated for, I think it is an affront and I believe you are violating our board policy.” In a 2-4 vote, the board decided to not seek written legal opinion. Martin and Murphy were the dissenting votes. Summit Hill board takes first look at 2017-2018 budget Also at the meeting, the board took time to take the first of three looks at the district’s budget. Officials are projecting a $367,470 deficit in the district’s operations and maintenance fund and an estimated $900,000 deficit pertaining to the non-operations and maintenance fund, which includes funds for education and transportation. The next review will be in August and followed by a final review in September. “The other thing to note is that on the revenue side in the transportation and education fund, we only budgeted two payments for the state-mandated categoricals,” said Doug Wiley, director of business and transportation, referring to state funding to the district. The district received its second state-mandated categorical payment for last school year toward the end of June. “Now that they’ve passed a state budget, we’re hopeful that we’ll get those in a little more timely fashion, but they’re still working on the funding formula, so there’s still some work to do,” Wiley said. “To be conservative and not to count on that money, we’ve only placed two of those reimbursements for each fund. So, really the only other thing to know is if we get all four payments, both the education fund and also the transportation fund would swing to a surplus, rather than a deficit that we’re currently project. It would be nice to get those two, but then again you can’t really count on them.” Should the board want a balanced budget, the district has projects that officials could delay for a year, Rains said. The district is embarking on several improvement projects to address roofing, tile replacement and an HVAC system. “The [operations and maintenance] fund is running negative, showing a deficit for next year, but that’s planned because of the shingle work and [planned maintenance,]” Marron said. The operations and maintenance balance is significant because the district has received tax objections for excess collections the last two years, Marron said. If the district does not put to use its excess collections, the money will no longer be available. “We have to spend some of that money,” Marron said. “This is a planned deficit that we’re running. We knew we had to do repairs on these buildings, and we’ve been saving up our pennies in order to do that.”