Originally created 06/30/00

Jasper educator challenges contract for Bluffton job



When special education teacher Donald Eisloeffel renewed his contract with the Jasper County School District in mid-April, he didn't know he was possibly signing away his certificate to teach in South Carolina.

A month later, when he was offered a higher-paying job closer to his Hilton Head Island home, he submitted a letter of resignation to Jasper County School Superintendent Bill Singleton.

Mr. Eisloeffel - known as "Mr. Ice" by faculty and students - soon learned in a letter from Mr. Singleton that he could resign, but he would be risking his teaching credentials.

Mr. Singleton's letter said a school board policy gives certified employees until May 1 to withdraw the contracts they've signed. If employees change their minds about working in the district after that date, the board will appeal to the state Board of Education to have their certificates revoked.

If the state board agrees, those employees will not be able to teach in any other school district in South Carolina.

The policy aims to discourage teachers and administrators from resigning in the middle of the school year, Jasper County Board of Education Chairwoman Patricia Walls said. Some employees sign contracts with Jasper and then go looking for jobs that pay more in Chatham and Beaufort counties, she said.

Mr. Eisloeffel is one of four Jasper school employees who want to leave but face a contractual obligation to the district, Ms. Walls said. Mr. Eisloeffel is expected to show up Aug. 11 to begin his fifth year of teaching at Ridgeland Middle School, she said.

For those who don't withdraw their contracts by the cutoff date, Ms. Walls said, "The only other way you can get out of it is by sickness or if we can find a suitable replacement."

Mr. Eisloeffel told the board Monday, "I did not know that this board had passed a resolution that said anyone that signed a contract would not be released under any circumstances."

His contract did not state the stipulations, and neither he nor any other teachers were informed of the policy before they signed their contracts, he said.

Mr. Singleton countered that the policy is in the manuals that were sent to all schools in the district.

The bottom line for Mr. Singleton and the board is that contracts are legal agreements. "The date he signs, his contract becomes binding, according to our school board attorney," Mr. Singleton said.

Mr. Eisloeffel said his letter of resignation gave the board sufficient notice, about 90 days before the 2000-2001 school year starts. He also said he did not sign his contract knowing he would get a job that would pay him more money, allow him to grow professionally and save money he would spend on gasoline driving to and from Ridgeland.

Mr. Eisloeffel asked board members Monday to think about what they would do in his situation and to reconsider letting him out of his contract. In an executive session, the board upheld its stance on the policy.

Ms. Walls reversed the situation, saying the board could not do to an employee what Mr. Eisloeffel was trying to do to the district.

"We could not tell a person you no longer have a job in the middle of the year without telling them why," she said. "We've got to follow procedures.

We've got to be consistent."

Mr. Eisloeffel already has accepted a teaching and advisory position in special education at H.E. McCracken Middle School in Bluffton, which he intends to begin in August, he said Tuesday.

"I have the freedom to choose where I work," he said.

The decision will be in the hands of the state board, if it comes to that, Mr. Eisloeffel said. The one thing, however, that might support his case is also what prompted creating the policy. The state might be reluctant to let him go, considering there's a nationwide and statewide teacher shortage.

"Presently in South Carolina, they are 8,000 teachers short," Mr. Eisloeffel said. "Would they like there to be 8,001?" By trying to deny him the opportunity to work at the Beaufort County school, Mr. Eisloeffel said the Jasper board is trying to affect the rest of his life. As he earns more money, his future retirement benefits increase, he said.

"They're depriving me of my civil right to improve my life, to do better for myself and my family," Mr. Eisloeffel said. "Somehow, somewhere we might end up in federal court."