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Heinlen loses appeal

The Georgia Board of Education has backed the Grady County Board of Education in its nonrenewal of the employment contract of a former veteran school system employee.
Superintendent Dr. Tommy Pharis learned Monday that the state board upheld the local board’s decision not to renew the contract of former Washington Middle School Assistant Principal Elizabeth Heinlen.
The state board acted at its July 9 meeting, and a letter from the Georgia Department of Education’s Legal Services division dated July 10 notified local officials of the recent action.
“I am pleased with the state board’s decision. We believed we followed the law and board procedure. The attorney charged that we did not, and the state board agreed with us,” Dr. Pharis said.
Ms. Heinlen was an employee of the local school system since 1977, and most recently served as the WMS assistant principal.
In the state’s decision on the Heinlen appeal, the state board says that Heinlen did not make any claims that a reduction-in-force program was unwarranted under the loss of students or elimination of programs.
Georgia code 20-2-940(a)(6), according to the state board’s decision, provides that the “employment of a teacher, principal or other employee having a contract for a definite term” can be terminated because of a reduction in staff due to a loss of students or the cancellation of programs.
In Heinlen’s hearing before the county school board, evidence was presented that shows cuts in state funding being passed down, as well as a steady drop in enrollment at WMS since 2001
Heinlen’s attorney, Howard J. Stiller of Albany, also claimed that the county board’s decision not to renew her contract violated the Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). However, according to the appeal decision, the state board has no jurisdiction in ADEA claims and Heinlen presented no evidence that the procedures required in making an ADEA claim had been followed.
Stiller, on Heinlen’s behalf, had attempted to make the case that the county school board’s reduction in force policy was discriminatory because all individuals whose contracts were not renewed were over the age of 40.
Heinlen also claimed that the lack of negative comments with regard to her job performance were absent from her personnel file, as allegedly required by the board’s reduction in force policy.
The state board found that the local board’s policy does not require negative performance as a consideration for reduction in force, so the county board’s action was proper.
The state board also noted that the local policy does provide for the local superintendent’s observations and knowledge to be a factor in deciding which employees are included in a reduction in force.
State officials also acknowledged that Dr. Pharis met with Ms. Heinlen, Arthur Anderson, who was her immediate supervisor, and others to discuss his decision not to renew her contract. The lack of any negative reports in Heinlen’s personnel file, according to the decision, “does not establish that the local board failed to follow its reduction-in-force policy.”
In conclusion, Vice Chairman for Appeals William B. Bryant wrote for the state board, “Based upon the foregoing and a review of the record it is the opinion of the State Board of Education that the local board did not deprive Appellant (Heinlen) of any of her due process rights, the local board followed its own policies, and Appellant was properly terminated due to a reduction-in-force . . . “
Heinlen can appeal the state board’s decision to Grady Superior Court is she so chooses.

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