The Bibb County school district will pay $12,800 to settle a case involving eight former teachers.
School board members approved the action during a called meeting Sept. 28, and the civil case in Bibb County Superior Court was dismissed Oct. 2.
“We made a decision that it was in the best interest of all parties to resolve” the matter, said Randy Howard, the district’s chief legal counsel. “We reached a compromise. They made a demand and through negotiation, that’s what we agreed to.”
Former Bibb teacher Ashley Osier filed the complaint against the district in June 2016 concerning a fee she was going to be charged upon her resignation. Seven other teachers with similar circumstances were added to the case in November.
Osier, Latoya Herron, Earnestine McCrae, Kathryn Neal, Melanie Saunders, Wynathia Jenkins, Lashonda Price and Shawn Moody were employed by the Bibb County system during the 2015-16 school year, and they had signed contracts for 2016-17, according to court documents.
After they resigned, $800 was deducted from their last paycheck for breaking their contract, said Brad Wilson of Adams, Hemingway and Wilson LLP, the law firm representing the teachers.
In teacher contracts for previous years, the school system had spelled out that there would be a $500 fee for breach of contract, said Bibb County Assistant Superintendent Paige Busbee. However, the language was changed for the 2016-17 year.
The contracts mentioned liquidated damages for employees who terminated their contracts, but they didn’t list a specific dollar amount. The increased fee — to $800 — was included in a separate policy the district adopted in February 2016, but it wasn’t in the actual contracts, according to court documents.
The $12,800 settlement accounts for $6,400 in attorney’s fees and $800 refunds for the eight teachers.
“Now, we have gone back, and this year our contracts have the $800 amounts spelled out so that moving forward, no one can say there is any question,” Busbee said.
The liquidated damages fee is intended to recover the cost of recruiting teachers, she said. It also helps teachers understand how certain they need to be if they sign early contracts. Georgia school districts have been working together this year to ensure that teachers they’re interested in haven’t already signed contracts elsewhere.
“People are just trying to do the best they can to recruit early, and it’s hard to hang onto people during these times,” Busbee said. “With the teacher shortage, more teachers have been in breach of their contract. That has been happening across the state.”
Such liquidated damages for teachers have been sources of litigation in other counties in Georgia, including DeKalb, Wilson said.
Teachers across the country have contended that the provisions serve as a penalty for seeking other employment and prevent them from looking at other school districts if they’ve signed early contracts, a position that the Bibb school district does not agree with, Howard said.