DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/15/94 TRIAL JUDGE: HON. R. B. REEVES, JR. COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: AMITE COUNTY CHANCERY COURT
The opinion of the court was delivered by: McRAE, Justice, For The Court:
NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - STATE BOARDS AND AGENCIES (OTHER THAN WORKERS' COMPENSATION)
MOTION FOR REHEARING FILED:
¶1. This appeal is from a decision in the Chancery Court of Amite County, finding that the decision by the Amite County School Board to not renew the employment contract of Alvin Burks under Miss. Code Ann. § 37-9-109 et al., was neither racially motivated nor arbitrary and capricious. We agree with the finding by the chancellor below, and hereby affirm.
¶2. Alvin Burks was employed as a librarian in the Amite County school system, where he was responsible for the implementation of the federal Drug-Free Schools program. On March 27, 1992, Amite County Superintendent Bishop notified Burks of his recommendation to the School Board that they not renew Burks' employment contract for the 1992-1993 school year. Burks requested a hearing pursuant to Miss. Code Ann. § 37-9-109 and § 37-9-111 (1972).
¶3. Bishop derived his recommendation from revenue projections for the school district. The Amite County School District anticipated a reduction in funds available for the 1992-1993 school year. The projected revenue for 1992-1993 totaled approximately $13,014,000, down from the previous year's total of $15,500,000. The shortfall was the result of a combination of factors, including diminished timber sales revenue, dwindling state funds, and reduced oil lease revenues. The decrease in total revenue and oil lease revenue was particularly significant because the District relied on this revenue to reduce a $3,300,000 loan received several years earlier for capital improvements. This financial quandary was intensified by cuts in projected annual tax allocation from 7 percent to 2 percent.
¶4. Superintendent Bishop acted to remedy the situation by reducing expenditures for the 1992-1993 school year pursuant to the District's Reduction in Force (RIF) policy. This policy called for the non-renewal of certain teachers' employment contracts according to two factors: the non-renewals could not adversely affect the accreditation of the District schools, and classroom instruction could not be materially impaired. The Assistant Superintendent determined areas in which staff reductions could be made under the RIF policy.
¶5. Under their RIF policy, as written, teachers were to be considered for non-renewal based upon seniority in the District. A teacher acquired seniority for the purposes of the RIF policy based upon continuous work in the area taught and in which the teacher held a valid certificate or permit.
¶6. Superintendent Bishop recommended the non-renewal of fourteen teachers for the 1992-1993 school year. Bishop limited contract non- renewals to four areas: library staff, industrial arts, social studies, and band. Of the fourteen slated for non-renewal, eight were black, while only six were white. The District finally received all but a negligible amount of the money under the minimum program; six whites were offered re-employment, while four blacks were extended such an offer.
¶7. After the non-renewal purge of fourteen teachers, two of the four black teachers who were offered reinstatement declined. The District's purge netted a loss of six black teachers and no whites. The four teachers who remained subject to the RIF policy were: Alvin Burks (librarian/coordinator of the federal Drug-Free Schools program), Lonnie Jackson (industrial arts teacher), Russell Porter (head football coach/social studies teacher), and Willie Redfield (band instructor).
¶8. The hearing on Superintendent Bishop's recommendation took place on March 22, 1992, at which time the School Board upheld Bishop's non- renewal recommendation. Burks appealed the Board's ruling to the Chancery Court of Amite County, asserting that the decision was racially motivated. The chancellor affirmed the Board's decision, finding that "the Board's non-renewal decision was a proper employment decision" and that the action "in no way violated the rights of Mr. Burks." Moreover, the chancellor ...