Arbitrator decides in favor of dismissed Dora teacher

By Tony Parra

Almost eight months after a Dora High School teacher was terminated from her job, an independent arbitrator has ruled she was wrongfully discharged.
Stuart Shanor of the Hinkle, Hensley, Shanor and Martin law firm in Roswell ruled Friday that Derinda Carter was wrongfully discharged by the district without just cause, according to the report from Shanor.
The report also reversed the Dora school board members’ decision to affirm the Carter termination. Carter is entitled to reinstatement as an employee of the district as a certified school instructor.
“I feel really good,” Carter said about the decision. “Honestly, it’s the only way it could have gone. They did not proceed legally in the process.”
Shanor also ruled that Carter shall be compensated for the entire period she was terminated. Carter was given a notice of intent to recommend discharge, dated July 17 and the form was signed by Superintendent Jim Reed.
Reed released Carter through a reduction in force (RIF) policy enacted over the summer. Carter was released after another teacher returned from military service to teach the social study courses she was teaching.
Carter said the back pay would be from August until she’s part of the school staff again. Carter said the decision can’t be appealed.
Reed said Wednesday he could not comment on the decision.
“Mr. Reed himself said I was an excellent teacher,” Carter said. “I’m ready to get back. I want to go back to teaching. I miss it terribly.”
Carol Helms, the attorney representing Dora schools, said on Wednesday she could not comment on the decision and still needs to review the arbitrator’s findings.
Carter said she hasn’t been contacted by Reed on the decision.
The RIF plan, enacted July 15 by the Dora school board, 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
• When a school has a decrease in enrollment and/or funding.
The arbitrator’s findings stated, “although undisclosed in the language of the RIF plan, the RIF plan was actually targeted at Carter.”
Reed said the school could not keep both Carter and Joe Fletcher and adhere to fiscal responsibility. Reed said he had to terminate Carter to accommodate the return of Fletcher.
Fletcher taught for about 10 years at the school. He left for a one-year military commitment 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 being held by Carter.
Carter taught history courses, one government course and one psychology course during the 2002-03 school year , according to the arbitrator’s ruling. Carter said she had been working as a Dora teacher for four years before the termination.
The arbitrator’s report also concluded that the district failed to prove that situations existed that would justify a reduction in force under its RIF policy and the district failed to show Carter was terminated or discharged for just cause.
There was a public hearing in the Dora High School auditorium in mid-October to try to determine whether Carter was properly discharged.