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MICHAEL J. SPRADLIN v. BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF PASCAGOULA MUNICIPAL SEPARATE SCHOOL DISTRICT

NOVEMBER 04, 1987

MICHAEL J. SPRADLIN
v.
BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF PASCAGOULA MUNICIPAL SEPARATE SCHOOL DISTRICT



BEFORE DAN LEE, P.J., ROBERTSON AND GRIFFIN, JJ.

DAN LEE, P.J., FOR THE COURT:

The Board of Trustees of the Pascagoula Municipal Separate School District offered Mr. Michael Spradlin the opportunity for a hearing on the question of whether or not his employment with the school district should be terminated in connection with an allegedly improper handling of a purchase of encyclopedias for the school district. Mr. Spradlin requested such a hearing, which was held on July 18, 1985, following a formal explanation of the charges by the school board. A hearing officer was appointed by the school board to preside over the proceedings. After reviewing the record of the hearing, the school board issued an opinion and decision on August 16, 1985, in which it terminated Mr. Spradlin's employment with the school district effective at the end of the work day on August 16, 1985. Mr. Spradlin appealed this decision to the Chancery Court of Jackson County. The chancellor affirmed the school board's decision, based on review of the record and oral arguments, on January 21, 1986. It is from this decision that Mr. Spradlin appeals to this Court, assigning the following errors:

I. THE COURT COMMITTED ERROR IN AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF THE SCHOOL BOARD WHICH EXCEEDED THE STATUTORY AUTHORITY AND POWER OF THE BOARD.

 II. THE COURT COMMITTED ERROR IN AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF THE SCHOOL BOARD WHICH VIOLATED THE STATUTORY AND CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS OF THE APPELLANT, MICHAEL J. SPRADLIN.

 III. THE COURT COMMITTED ERROR IN AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF THE SCHOOL BOARD, WHICH WAS BOTH ARBITRARY AND CAPRICIOUS.

 IV. THE COURT COMMITTED ERROR IN AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF THE SCHOOL BOARD WHICH WAS NOT SUPPORTED BY ANY SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE.

 FACTS

 Mr. Spradlin has served in the field of education for approximately 19 years, all of them with the Pascagoula School District. Prior to his termination in August of 1985, Mr. Spradlin served as Director of Federal Programs and Coordinator of the Instructional Materials Center. Part of his responsibility as coordinator of the Instructional Materials Center was to determine the needs of the various schools within the district with respect to acquisition of encyclopedias for the school libraries. The purchases in question are encyclopedias necessary to upgrade the school district libraries for the purpose of

 maintaining school accreditation. The school board planned and budgeted money for this expenditure. Mr. Spradlin conducted a survey of the various schools within the district for the purpose of determining their particular needs with respect to the acquisition of encyclopedias. In early December 1984, Mr. Spradlin became aware of a special offer available to the school system from the publisher of Encyclopedia Brittanica whereby a set of 1984 Compton's Encyclopedias together with a set of 1984 Brittanica Junior encyclopedias could be acquired for a total purchase price of $369.00. Because Mr. Spradlin thought the school system would want to take advantage of this special offer, he agreed with the publisher's representative to reserve 12 combined sets, with no obligation to buy, with the understanding that Mr. Spradlin would later notify the publisher of the school's exact needs when he obtained the survey results. When the survey results were in, Mr. Spradlin ascertained that the school district would need eight of the combined sets. Because the promotional offer was ending, Mr. Spradlin told the encyclopedia representative that the school anticipated needing eight of the sets, gave her a purchase order number from the stack of purchase orders specifically issued to him, and told the representative that the written purchase order would be forthcoming from the district. The encyclopedia representative directed her company to ship the order immediately.

 Mr. Spradlin prepared the purchase order and hand-delivered it to the school superintendent, Dr. John McCormick, for approval, along with other purchase orders generated as a result of the survey. The superintendent signed this particular purchase order and returned it to Mr. Spradlin, requesting that Mr. Spradlin provide additional written justification for the encyclopedia purchase because the purchase was from a single source. Dr. McCormick testified that he told Mr. Spradlin that in addition to the further justification, this single-source purchase must go before the school board for approval. Mr. Spradlin, however, claims that Dr. McCormick did not verbally tell him that this single-source purchase would have to go before the school board. Therefore, Mr. Spradlin provided the written justification and returned the memorandum with the purchase order to Dr. McCormick. After that point, the purchase order somehow got to the finance department where a check was cut for the purchase of the encyclopedias. Mr. Spradlin testified that he did not take the purchase order to the finance department, but that he returned it to Dr. McCormick. Dr. McCormick does not know how the purchase order got to the finance department, either. By the end of February 1985, the encyclopedias had been shipped and distributed to the individual schools.

 On February 18, 1985, Dr. McCormick issued a written memorandum to school personnel in which he outlined the procedure for single-source purchases over $500.00, required by Miss. Code Ann. 31-7-13 (1972 & Cum. Supp. 1986). Significantly, a part of that procedure involves getting approval from the school board before single-source purchase orders for over $500 are issued to the vendor. Mr. Spradlin testified that the February 18th memorandum was the first time he became aware that single-source purchases over $500 had to specifically have board approval. He also testified that he assumed that these procedures applied after the date of February 18, and did not apply to purchases made previously. Before that time, Mr. Spradlin operated under the procedures set out in a 1981 memorandum which stated that single-source purchase orders needed to have the words "single source" typed on them before processing by the finance department. He complied with this set of instructions when he filled out the purchase orders for these encyclopedias. Dr. McCormick testified that he, himself, became aware of the law on single-source purchases sometime in January of 1985.

 In early March, while Dr. McCormick was reviewing the check register to be presented to the March board meeting, he noted that there was a check made payable to Brittanica. At that point he understood that there would be a problem with this check because it was a single-source purchase for more than $500 which had not been approved by the school board. Dr. McCormick was not aware at that point that the encyclopedias had, in fact, been delivered to the schools. Dr. McCormick held the check instead of releasing it and immediately consulted with Mr. Spradlin and Dr. Whatley, associate superintendent, as to how to correct the problem. The three of them together determined to pull the check from the board agenda for the early March board meeting and to resubmit the encyclopedia issue at the March 27 board meeting as a memorandum requesting approval for the purchase of the single-source item.

 At the March 27 board meeting, all three, Dr. McCormick, Dr. Whatley and Mr. Spradlin, presented the encyclopedias for approval as a single-source item. None of the three told the board that the items indeed had already been delivered. Mr. Spradlin responded to the board's questions concerning the proposed purchase of the encyclopedias, and during his answers Mr. Spradlin, while answering the specific questions truthfully, never informed the board that these encyclopedias were already delivered to the school district. The board, in fact, declined to approve this single-source purchase at that board meeting, tabling it until Mr. Spradlin could provide them with further information about 1985 encyclopedias as opposed

 to 1984 encyclopedias.

 Around April 11, 1985, Dr. McCormick issued a private written reprimand to Mr. Spradlin for the "encyclopedia fiasco," in which he pointed out that Mr. Spradlin had not followed the procedure for single-source purchases and that if he ever failed to follow procedure again his employment with the school district would be terminated. Mr. Spradlin accepted the reprimand from Dr. McCormick out of loyalty to ...


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