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Decatur superintendent’s new contract could make him harder to fire

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Decatur superintendent’s new contract could make him harder to fire

FILE PHOTO USED FOR ILLUSTRATION PURPOSES: The City Schools of Decatur Board of Education. Top row, left to right: former Superintendent David Dude and School Board Chair Lewis Jones. Bottom row, left to right: School board members James Herndon, Tasha White (Vice Chair), Heather Tell and Jana Johnson-Davis. Image obtained via City Schools of Decatur

Decatur, GA – Records provided by City Schools of Decatur show it may be easier for the School Board to fire Superintendent David Dude before July 1.

That’s the date his new contract, signed in September 2020, goes into effect. The new contract appears to make firing Dude for cause more difficult and makes it more expensive to fire him for the board’s convenience. City Schools of Decatur faces five federal lawsuits, all filed under Dude’s watch.

The most recent lawsuit alleges Dude violated state statutes and ethics rules by improperly reporting his vacation time. City Schools of Decatur’s former human resources director David Adams filed the lawsuit in January, alleging Dude took more vacations than his contract allowed and retaliated against employees who raised questions about it.

A Decaturish investigation into those claims uncovered evidence that Dude is frequently absent in excess of the vacation days he’s recorded in the district’s payroll system.

Decatur School Board Chair Tasha White won’t comment about the future of Superintendent Dude.

When asked last month if the board has threatened to fire Dude or asked for his resignation, White said, “I would have no comment on that.”

Decaturish asked Dude on Feb. 22 if he has been threatened with termination or if he has been asked to resign. He said any of those discussions would occur during closed-door meetings of the School Board, called executive sessions.

“I’m not going to get into that,” Dude said. “I think that’s absurd. I’m not going to get into any of that. If it was happening it would happen in executive session and we’re not going to talk about what happens in executive session.”

According to his current contract, Dude is allotted 45 vacation days each school year. He can cash out 30 days each year. Since 2016, Dude has cashed out $100,000 worth of unused vacation days, money he received in addition to his other salary and benefits. Two employees of CSD, one of whom works in Dude’s cabinet, the group of individuals who oversee district operations, and another familiar with the inner workings of CSD’s central office, said Dude is often absent and unreachable during the summer months.

However, upon reviewing his contracts, Decaturish was unable to find any language specifying the number of days Dude is required to work.

Dude’s individual calendar going back to January 2018 shows 100 days with nothing on the schedule. These are days are not included in the 40 vacation days he’s reported taking since 2017. According to his calendar, at least 36 of those days were in the months of June and July.

Dude’s new contract, approved by the School Board in September 2020, is effective July 1. It includes new language about ending his employment with City Schools of Decatur.

There are generally two ways a School Board can fire a superintendent: with or without cause.

Firing a superintendent for cause means the superintendent has committed some firing offense like being insubordinate or neglecting his duties. Firing a superintendent without cause, for the board’s convenience, means it’s just not working out and the School Board wants to go in a different direction.

Firing Dude without cause will be more expensive for the district starting on July 1.

They’d be obligated to pay him twice his salary “or twice the pro-rata total of all remaining base salaries covered by the term of this contract, whichever is more.” Dude, who currently makes $219,000 will make $255,704 starting in the 2021-2022 school year.

Under his current contract, which ends on June 30, if the board fired him without cause, Dude would only receive one year of his current salary “or the pro-rata total of all remaining base salaries covered by the term of this contract, whichever is less.”

His new contract taking effect July 1 says if the School Board wants to fire him for cause, the board would have to give him 60 days to respond to any allegations. For comparison: DeKalb County Schools gives the Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris 30 days written notice if she’s being fired for-cause, and Atlanta Public Schools contract with Superintendent Lisa Herring says dismissal for cause will be handled under the provisions of O.C.G.A. § 20-2-940. That’s the state law that applies to the firing of educators, and it’s also cited in the contract of Watson-Harris.

This law also applies to Dude’s current contract and his previous contract, but the language has been removed from his new contract that takes effect July 1.

Dude’s current and new contract also appears to say that for-cause termination can’t occur unless the School Board makes the complaint or criticism during Dude’s evaluations, which occur twice a year.

His new contract taking effect July 1 states, “Criticisms or complaints which have not been previously shared with the superintendent with sufficient time to address them, in accordance with the provisions of Section 6.1 of this agreement, shall not be admissible in termination proceedings against the superintendent. Before initiating termination for cause, the board will give the superintendent written notice of the basis for termination and 60 calendar days to address that basis.”

Section 6.1 of his contract refers to his twice-yearly evaluations. His current contract approved in 2017 also cites Section 6.1, but does not give him 60 days to respond. His original contract signed in 2015 does not state that a termination for cause is tied to the superintendent’s performance evaluations.

Board member Lewis Jones was board chair at the time his newest contract was signed and has declined to answer questions unless they were asked in writing. Decaturish submitted questions in writing on Feb. 24 and submitted them again on March 2.

A spokesperson for the school district says the board intends to respond to those questions after the March 9 School Board meeting.

Some of those same questions were also posed to Dude during Dude’s Feb. 22 interview with Decaturish.

When he was asked why the citation of Georgia law O.C.G.A. § 20-2-940 was removed from the new contract, he said he wasn’t familiar with that language. He would not say what attorney represented the School Board during its most recent contract negotiation with him. He said he wasn’t represented by an attorney during the negotiation.

“No, I’ve never been represented by an attorney for my contract negotiations,” Dude said.

When asked about the 60-day response time added to his new contract, he said, “It sounds like pretty standard language for a superintendent contract.”

He also declined to discuss the provision of his contract that makes it more expensive to fire him without cause.

“I can’t get into specifics of negotiations,” Dude said. “It’s a whole package that gets negotiated.”

The March 9 executive session begins at 5 p.m. and is followed by the regular meeting, which starts at 6:30 p.m. To see the agendas for each meeting, click here.

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