Determining Superintendent dismissals in case law has two major effects in the areas of "non renewal" and "termination."

Non renewal of contracts are dismissal by the school boards at the expiration of a contract.
Terminations are dismissals by the school boards during the term of the contract.

Non renewals and terminations can be divided into three levels:

1. Cases based on contracts.
2. Cases based primarily on legislation.
3. Cases based on constitutional rights.

Dramatic and unexpected expectations from the community and school board members subject even the best superintenedents to dismissal. Superintendents who challenge the non renewal category of dismissal generally lose.

Regarding the first two levels of cases based on the contract and legislation, superintendent contracts or state statues do not provide procedural and substantive limitations on the boards ministerial discretion not to reappoint a superintendent as the end of his term.

Fourteenth Amendment due process is tied to the loss of liberty or property. The Supreme Court had defined liberty to extend to a severe stigmatization of reputation and property to require a legitimate claim of entitlement.

If a board is careful enough not to blacken a superintendent's reputation when deciding a non renewal of contract, there is no loss of property interest because the superintendent has no legitimate entitlement of re employment.

Board of Education v. Morris (1982) illustrates a decision by Oklahoma's highest court that deals at the contractual, statutory, and constitutional levels. Reasoning that first the school board had not incorporated an evaluation policy into the superintendent's contract as a prerequisite for no renewal. Second, there were no legislation establishing tenure for superintendents. And third the court rejected the constitutional argument that the superintendent was deprived of property because the superintendent failed to prove that he had a legitimate entitlement for reappointment under state law.

Variations in states with superintendent tenure cases determined in Minnesota, ruled that superintendents are subject to non renewal of contracts during their probationary period.

Superintendents are somewhat more successful in challenging terminations than non renewals, though the odds are still not in their favor.

An Arkansas case, Logan v. Rosa (1983) demonstrates a termination case at the constitutional level. The issue centered around the allegations by the superintendent that the school board had leaked personally damaging information to a local newspaper, as well as an allegation of one board member had joined the board primarily to get rid of the superintendent.

The board terminated the contract, the superintendent sued and the trial court found his testimony to be more credible that the boards. The State Supreme Court affirmed.

The superintendent received compensation for the remainder of his contract, but was not awarded reinstatement.

A New York case, Petrella v. Siegal, represents a ruling at the statuatory level. One of the New York school boards accepted an oral resignation from a superintendent and terminated his employment. However, because state statutes require that superintendents resignations be in writing, the court ruled that his termination was void and reinstated him with back pay and benefits.

Representing dual issues of contract and constitutional dismissal is a Virginia State Supreme Court case, Bristal, Va., School Board v. Quarles (1988). The superintendent had taken school funds for personal use, schools had reached a serious state of disrepair, and the superintendent had failed to implement board directives.

In a closed session the board gave the superintendent notice of its intent to terminate and listed six reasons, but during the public session the board summarized them as "ineffective leadership" and "lack of communication with personnel." The board also voted to pay him the remaining term of his contract.

Because of applicable legislation the courts deferred to the judgement of the school board because the school board did not bad faith'act in bad faith,' arbitrarily, capriciously, or in the abuse of its discretion and ruled against the superintendent.

Due Process was not impeached because the school board had given unelaborated charges to the public rather than specific charges dealing with his job performance, the court ruled the superintendent's liberty interest was not implicated.

In most cases involving property claims, school boards elect to pay superintendent's full amount due under contract and dismiss him. Superintendents have been unsuccessful under the property prong of the Fourteenth Amendment. Royster v. Board of Trustees determined

"(His) contract afforded him only the right to be fully compensated, and not the right to (physically) occupy the office of superintendent."

Boards have erred when they conduct a termination hearing without prior notice. Okeson v. Tolley School District (1985) the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of the superintendent. Even though the board had valid grounds for dismissal, they failed to give the superintendent prior notice arguing that he should have known what the meeting was about and that he failed to request a continuance. The federal appeals court ruled in favor of the superintendent because the board had deprived him of due property without procedural due process.

In order to defend his rights a superintendent must know the difference between "nonrenewable" and "termination" of contract, pre plan their contracts, negotiate grounds and procedures for termination in contracts, negotiate evaluative provisions, use legal counsel to keep up with state statutes and regulations and use documentation to protect reputational rights.

Selected Periodical

Greenwood, Scott C. and Zirkel, Perry A, "Superintendent Dismissals Know Your Rights To Avoid Wrongs." The School Administrator, 47(October 1990), 18-24.

Greenwood, Scott C. and Zirkel, Perry A, "Practical Pointers for Ensuring Your Rights." The School Administrator, 47(October 1990), 20.

From The Law and American Education

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