By Kevin Wilson
DORA — A public hearing was held Thursday to determine whether a Dora High School teacher was properly discharged after a former teacher returned from a military committment.
The hearing took place at the DHS auditorium. No decision was made Thursday and the board has 20 days to announce a decision in a public meeting.
The hearing stems from the termination of the contract of social studies teacher Derinda Carter. Carter was released through a reduction in force (RIF) policy enacted over the summer.
Dora Superintendent Jim Reed said the school could not keep both Carter and Joe Fletcher and adhere to fiscal responsibility.
Reed said Fletcher had taught for about 10 years at the school. He left for a one-year military committment in May 2003, within weeks of the school year closing. He was out for the entire 2003-04 school year. In Fletcher’s absence, Reed said his classes were absorbed by the remaining personnel and a new teacher was hired to teach fine arts classes.
Upon Fletcher’s return in May, Reed said Fletcher notified him of his intention to come back to the school. Reed said the only position that Fletcher was licensed to teach — social studies — was one held by Carter.
“Mr. Reed was confronted with no plan other than to give (Fletcher) his position back,” said Mike Worley, the attorney representing Reed in the hearing. “Being a small district, there are less abilities to move positions around.”
Steve Doerr, Carter’s attorney, said his client was released from her position without proper procedure. Reed and his attorney argued that House Bill 212 gives Reed the authority to make all personnel decisions, but Doerr said Dora’s school board policies require the decision to release Carter to involve the board.
“As such, you’re given the right to look at this and say, ‘What are the 10 options we have?’” Doerr told the board. “These are decisions you, as elected officials, are to make.”
The RIF plan, enacted July 15 by the Dora school board, said a RIF could be implemented “any time when the board determines it is justified.” The plan allows for an RIF in several instances, notably:
• When changes are made in the education program,
• To accommodate the return of military personnel, when the return creates overstaffing and budget constraints and
• Decreases in enrollment and/or funding.
“You have a fine arts program because you have a superintendent and a community with … foresight and committment,” Worley told board members.
Doerr did not argue the merits of the fine arts program — only that Reed knew Fletcher intended to return in a year.
“He knew Joe Fletcher was coming back in a year. He knew there was going to be a train wreck,” Doerr said. “He RIF’d Derinda Carter because he made a mistake when Joe Fletcher left.”
When Fletcher returned, Reed said he weighed the options, and it was a matter of having too many social studies teachers.
“We only have five classes of social studies,” Reed said. “We only need one teacher.”
Worley reiterated in his closing argument that Reed’s position allowed him to make the decision.
“He (Reed) has the authority to make all personnel decisions through House Bill 212,” Worley said. “He has that authority whether he wanted it or didn’t.”