Pine Bluff School Board votes to retain legal counsel over superintendent’s firing last month

The Pine Bluff School District Board of Directors voted during its regular monthly meeting Tuesday night to retain legal counsel in the wake of its decision last month to fire district superintendent Jerry O. Payne last month.

“I make a motion to retain and engage an attorney to represent the school board on all matters pertaining to the superintendent’s contract,” said board member Ellen Nichol.

The motion was seconded by board member Harold Jackson and was unanimously approved by the board.

Payne was presented with a letter signed by board president Herman Horace on Feb. 29 indicating that it was official notice of a board decision to terminate his contract as of June 30, 2012. The board’s decision was first communicated to the superintendent during a special called meeting of the board on Feb. 28.

The letter quoted a section of Payne’s contract pertaining to contract termination that allows the board to terminate the contract agreement without good cause effective June 30 of any year of the contract by giving 120 days written notice to the superintendent.

Payne said in an interview after the Feb. 28 board meeting that he had encouraged the board to hold the discussion about his contract in open session and hold a roll-call vote during open session. Payne said they refused.

Under Section 25-19-106 (4) of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, “no resolution, ordinance, rule, contract, regulation, or motion considered or arrived at in executive session will be legal unless, following the executive session, the public body reconvenes in public session and presents and votes on the resolution, ordinance, rule, contract, regulation or motion.”

The board went into a 12-minute executive session immediately after the Feb. 28 meeting was convened. After reconvening they unanimously approved a motion to take no action on administrator contracts.

The board adjourned after that vote with no further comment.

Payne said after the meeting that the board asked him for a list of potential school district administrators for the next school year.

“I told them that this is usually done all at one time in May,” Payne said.

Payne said that after this discussion, he was informed of the board’s decision to terminate his contract.

“I was told that my contract would be terminated as of June 30,” Payne said. “I was informed that I will be receiving a letter of termination tomorrow [Feb. 29], termination without cause.

“The board president said, ‘we are exercising our 120-day without good cause,’” Payne said.

Other business

In other business the board observed a moment of silence in honor of Quinshun Parks, a 12-year-old student at Bel Air Middle School who died on Sunday after being shot Saturday afternoon, allegedly by a 14-year-old boy.

The board approved a recommendation first made by Payne during the February regular board meeting to pay certified staff a stipend of $100 for a full day and $50 for a half day of attendance at the annual meeting of the Arkansas Education Association in November.

The board voted to reject a recommendation first made by Payne during the February regular board meeting to move ninth-grade students from Jack Robey Junior High School to Pine Bluff High School.

“Because we have not received enough information about the move I make a motion that we reject moving the ninth grade to Pine Bluff High School until we can have a comprehensive study completed,” board secretary Freddie M. Johnson said.

The board voted to take no action on a recommendation first made by Payne during the February regular board meeting to open vendor bids to conduct a study on whether to increase the salaries of classified staff in the school district.

Board member Kenneth Dickson made the motion to take no action, saying that because of the cost factor the study might be something that could be done within the district.

The board approved a recommendation made by Payne to adopt the first of two options for the 2012-2013 district calendar.

“The employees voted for option one and I recommend that the board approve this option as the calendar for the 2012-2013 academic year,” Payne said. “The state has mandated that no district start before Aug. 20 so that is when the start date will be.”