Second setback for lawyer fighting to save La Marque jobs
By Trishna Buch
THE ATTORNEY who last week tried in vain to overturn the firing of 19 La Marque independent school district teachers suffered the same fate again on Wednesday as 29 at-will and probationary contract employees were told a similar decision would stand.
The district’s state-imposed temporary board of managers voted unanimously to uphold a decision to continue the termination that temporary superintendent Willis Mackey made in May after the employees had protested their earlier blanket firing during a grievance hearing.
During Wednesday’s appeal, management-board president Jack Christiana said the grievances had been consolidated previously into two separate complaints.
One was that former Texas education commissioner Michael Williams had not had the authority to remove the district’s board of trustees, install a temporary board of managers and order the district’s annexation by Texas City ISD.
The second was that the fired employees had not been given proper notice of their blanket termination.
Amanda Moore, staff attorney for Texas State Teachers Association, asked the board to rescind the termination, saying it was not in the best interests of the community, students or employees.
“My clients did not engage in any conduct that would warrant a termination,” she said.
“This termination was not done in compliance with the law or board policy.”
Moore said that, while the schools and programs at which the employees had worked would remain, their employment would not.
“A name change is not a program change”, she said, adding that Williams, who stood down as commissioner on December 31, had had no authority to terminate the employees’ contracts and that it seemed as if the board did not care, evidenced by the fact that the employees had been told to “resign or be fired”.
She said: “Their lives will be disrupted and they will lose their salary. The years of experience for the employees range from two to 30. And, being with the district for over 30 years, the last thing you want to hear is ‘resign or be fired’.”
But Sarah Langlois, attorney for the district’s administration, argued that the management-board members had been hired to “ensure a smooth transition to TCISD” and that the employees’ contracts had been terminated because it was the only legal way to end their employment by the La Marque district.
“The grievance argues that these individual employees did not engage in conduct warranting termination,” she said.
“That is true. Their terminations were not based on any particular actions or misconduct of these individuals. Rather, these individuals’ employment at La Marque is terminated because the district will cease to exist tomorrow at midnight.”
That was a reference to the state-enforced takeover of the district by neighboring Texas City ISD from Friday.
Langlois said the management-board members could not rescind the decision to terminate the contracts because they had no authority to make appointment decisions for another school district but they did feel sympathy for the fired employees.
She said: “On behalf of the administration, we’d like to say we empathize with the worry and the sadness that the closure of La Marque has brought and the hardship of the termination of employment that this will inevitably bring to these individuals.”
But Moore would not accept Langlois’ sympathies.
“My clients do not want empathy or sympathy,” she said. “They want their jobs.”
Attorney: We’re not done yet
But former trustee says ‘the fat lady has now sung’
AMANDA MOORE reacted to Wednesday’s decision by announcing that she will be lodging appeals in both that day’s case and the management board’s June 20 decision not to reinstate 19 teachers formerly contracted by the district.
But Nakisha Paul, president of the district’s former board of trustees, told The Post she fears the battle could be part of a lost war.
Her comments came just days after the state’s supreme court denied the former trustees’ petition for a review of a decision by an Austin appeals court not to grant an injunction preventing the state closing down the district.
Lawyer Moore said she will lobby state education commissioner, Mike Morath, for the contract teachers by their case’s July 10 deadline to appeal and will also file an appeal with him on behalf of the at-will and probationary contract employees involved in Wednesday’s case before its mid-August deadline.
She told The Post she has 45 calendar days to file the appeal, which produces a deadline of August 13.
Speaking about the annexation, Paul said: “Our main focus is the students. We want the best for them. Everything needs to be fair, across the board.
“Whatever happens in Texas City should happen in La Marque. We have fought a long and hard fight and we want to see progress.”
Turning to the firing of the LMISD employees, she said: “I have a total problem with how the Texas education agency allowed TCISD to allow the board to fire them. There was no strategic planning, no process. It is unfair to not leave anyone of familiarity for the students.”
The decision for annexation came late last year after the state said LMISD had barely met its academic standards and had not met its financial reporting standards.
The then education commissioner, Michael Williams, removed Paul and her fellow trustees, hired a temporary board of managers and replaced superintendent Terri Watkins.
A still defiant Paul said that decision still hurts, adding: “I always tell media that it ain’t over till the fat lady sings. Well, I guess the fat lady has now sung.”