NEW ORLEANS (CN) – Three fired public school principals claim a state-run school district is “arbitrarily and capriciously convert(ing) an indefinite number of public schools to charter schools to be controlled by quasi-private boards without protecting the statutory employment rights of public school employees.”
The complaint involves the Recovery School District, a special district administered by the Louisiana Department of Education. According to the district’s website, “the RSD is designed to take underperforming schools and transform them into successful places for children to learn.” It was created by legislation in 2003.
Annette Hagan, Olga Walters and Sean Goodwin sued the state’s Department of Education and the Recovery School District’s three top officers: its superintendent John White, deputy superintendent Patrick Dobard, and facilities director Ramsey Green.
All three plaintiffs were principals of New Orleans elementary schools in the Recovery School District. All say they were fired unfairly in July, shortly before hearings that were scheduled to discuss their contracts. All three say they were initially charged with incompetence, even though their evaluations were satisfactory.
They claim their firings violated their contracts and were irregular in many ways.
For instance, Goodwin claims that Superintendent White, who served as “Hearing Officer” for Goodwin’s due-process hearing, “made a recommendation to himself as to whether or not Mr. Goodwin would be retained as a principal.”
He adds that White “has only a Bachelor’s Degree, [and] has no academic or administrative credentials which would entitle him to conduct a due process hearing for a principal who has earned a Master’s Degree and who has been certified in Administration and Supervision by the Louisiana State Department of Education.”
The plaintiffs say that the state is unfairly favoring several “chartering groups” which have been converting public schools to “charter/quasi-private schools” ever since Hurricane Katrina hit.
One such chartering group is called New Leaders for New Schools, “a post-Katrina organization that promotes ‘new leadership’ in public and charter schools in New Orleans,” according to the complaint. The plaintiffs say: “In a recent website posting for New Leaders for New Schools … the organization boasted of ‘sixteen new leaders working to drive dramatic results in New Orleans, a city which continues to turn tragedy into both opportunity and triumph.'”
But the fired principals say, “In some instances, these ‘new leaders’ are given assignments before the RSD meets its legal and contractual obligations to honor existing agreements, including agreements involving plaintiffs Hagan, Walters and Goodwin.”
They say that “many principals and assistant principals hired by the RSD for the 2011-2012 school year are unqualified” to be principals, under state law.
“Moreover, plaintiffs contend that the RSD cannot arbitrarily and capriciously convert an indefinite number of public schools to charter schools to be controlled by quasi-private boards without protecting the statutory employment rights of public school employees working for the Recovery School District.”
The plaintiffs say an “ongoing controversy” involving Abramson Charter Schools in New Orleans, “which has foreign teachers and school officials from Turkey, is a perfect example of this fundamentally unfair practice.”
The New Orleans Times-Picayune has reported on at least two state investigations of the Abramson charter school, including an allegation from a state education official who says he was fired after reporting that someone associated with Abramson tried to offer him money during an audit.
More than 30 different charter school operators run schools in New Orleans, and educate more than half of the city’s public school students, according to a July 21 storyin the Times-Picayune.
In the fired principals’ claim in Orleans Parish Court, the “plaintiffs assert that post-Katrina, public schools in New Orleans are more akin to a city-wide, yet closed network of charter quasi-private schools.”
Plaintiff Olga Walters says that her Hearing Officer, Ramsey Green, was also “unqualified to serve as a hearing officer” for her due process hearing: “Mr. Ramsay, who serves as the director of facilities for the RSD, only has a bachelor’s degree with an expired social studies certificate, and does not possess academic or administrative credentials which would entitle him to conduct a due process hearing. …
Hagan says that “Defendant Patrick Dobard was unqualified to serve as a hearing officer for Annette Hagan’s due process hearing” for the same reason. “Mr. Dobard, who serves as the deputy superintendent, has a Bachelor’s and Masters Degrees, with an expired certification (1991) in social studies. Therefore, he possesses no academic or administrative credential which would entitle him to conduct a due process hearing for a principal with a Master’s Degree and certified by the Louisiana State Department of Education.”
The plaintiffs say their rights are being “trampled”: “Since the legal rights of public school employees are being trampled by the Recovery School District, the court should not be hesitant in restraining the wrongful conduct,” the complaint states.
“It is in the best interest of students, parents and the public schools in general to compel the RSD and its leadership to honor the due process and property rights of teachers and school administrators. Otherwise, these schools become ‘quasi-private’ schools supported with public funds.”
They demand reinstatement to their jobs, “pending a final resolution of this legal matter.”
They are represented by Willie Zanders.