Originally created 02/27/06

'Clever lawyering' walks fine line in contract, expert says



It might be legal by the letter of the law, but the contract of Richmond County schools Superintendent Charles Larke may skirt the intent of the law through "clever lawyering," a legal expert says.

Robert B. Ahdieh, an Emory University law professor with expertise in contract law, reviewed the portion of the contract in question and said Friday it seems to be consistent with Georgia Code 20-2-101, the pertinent state law.

Earlier this month, Super District 9 school board member A.K. Hasan began publicly questioning the legality of the superintendent's contract. Specifically, he questioned the manner in which the three-year contract never penetrates into the second or third year because a new three-year contract is offered automatically if the superintendent receives a favorable annual review.

"It seems that this language does not make for a perpetual contract," Mr. Ahdieh said in a telephone interview.

The contract requires that a "new" contract be offered if the superintendent receives a satisfactory evaluation but doesn't stipulate the conditions of that contract, he said. The new contract could be distinctly different.

Reading into the law seems to suggest that its spirit isn't being followed, Mr. Ahdieh said.

Don Rooks, a legislative specialist for the Georgia School Boards Association, said he was at the General Assembly when the law was passed. The General Assembly ended tenure for school administrators in 1995, so school systems began including automatic rollovers in contracts, he said. A year or two later, the state prohibited those, too, because they amounted to tenure.

"The intent of 101 is surely not to say superintendents can only serve for three years," he said. "An understanding of the context would seem to me to sort of say this is an end run around what the Legislature intended, but that unfortunately is how lawyers make a living."

That's a "zealous advocacy" of your client's interests, he said.

"It does clearly create this tension where you've got a contract provision that does sort of fly in the face of what we think 101 was probably trying to do, but I don't think it flies in the face of what the language of 101 actually does," Mr. Ahdieh said.

CONTRACT VS. LAW

What Dr. Larke's contract says:

On or before May 1 of each year this contract is in effect, if the SUPERINTENDENT has received a satisfactory evaluation using the State approved evaluation instrument, the BOARD shall offer the SUPERINTENDENT a new contract which upon acceptance by the SUPERINTENDENT and execution by the parties will have a term of three years from such date of execution.

What Georgia Law says:

20-20-101 (a) Superintendents of each school system shall be employed by the local board of education under written contracts for a term of not less than one year and not more than three years. Any provision of any such contract which provides for an extension of the duration of employment thereunder, whether automatic or contingent upon the occurrence of one or more events, shall be void if that extension would result in employment under the contract, as so extended, for a period which exceeds three years.