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WILLIAMS OINONEN LLC

THE GRANT BUILDING, SUITE 200


44 BROAD STREET, NW
ATLANTA, GA 30303
HTTP://WWW.GOODGEORGIALAWYER.COM
TEL.: (404) 654-0288
FAX: (404) 592-6225



May 25, 2014


Sent Via Email and US Postage to:

DeKalb County School District
c/o Superintendent Michael Thurmond
1701 Mountain Industrial Boulevard
Stone Mountain, GA 30083-1027

DeKalb County School District
c/o Dr. Tova Jackson Davis
Division of Human Resources
1701 Mountain Industrial Boulevard
Stone Mountain, GA 30083-1027


Dear Superintendent Thurmond and the Division of Human Resources:

Our law firm writes on behalf of three members of the Georgia Association of Education and
Organization of DeKalb Educators: Chayka Bettis, Nicole Gilliam, and Leslie Hein. All three women
are dedicated, conscientious school teachers who have devoted their careers to educating young people
within DeKalb County School District. All three are facing either a financial, health or a personal
hardship if they are not released from their contracts and allowed to accept offers that will afford them
the opportunity they require to meet their familys needs due to their specific set of circumstances.

FACTS CONCERNING PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS AND DISTRICT TRANSFERS:

As you are well aware, in order for a school teacher in Georgia to obtain a new teaching position
outside their current school district that will allow them to move to be closer to home, better provide
for their family financially, or simply obtain a new career opportunity, they must generally wait to
receive such an offer from a new school district towards the end of the school year. It is around this
time when school districts in Georgia generally extend offers to good teachers that reside outside of
their district. Unfortunately this can often overlap with the deadline to accept an offer from their
current district.

This year DeKalb teachers who were required to seek employment outside the school district, for
various personal circumstances, ran into a serious problem. As you know, the District made offers on
the early date of March 24, 2014 and required an acceptance by April 3, 2014. For the first time, in an
effort to minimize attrition, the District added a liquidated damages provision to their employment
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contract. While some type of mechanism might be warranted to discourage last minute contract
cancellations where no proper notice is given, the new provision created an enormous problem for the
multitude of conscientious teachers who sought employment outside of DeKalb and wished to do so in
an ethical and professional manner.

Teachers looking to move, including each one of our clients, were placed between a proverbial rock
and a hard place this past April. They were financially unable to risk losing their jobs and the ability to
provide for their families by declining the contact extended to them but at the same time, they actively
needed to find employment outside of the District for various reasons. Our clients were obligated to
accept their DeKalb offers, yet notified their supervisor at the soonest practicable moment that they
were seeking work outside of the District. Unfortunately, not only were their requests to be released
from their contracts denied by Human Resources, they were also threatened with a PSC action that
could risk their teaching certification and consequently their ability to provide for their families, along
with the threat of a $750.00 penalty in the event they resigned.

NEW LIQUIDATED DAMAGES PROVISION IN ITSELF VIOLATES GEORGIA LAW:

It is our position that the new penalty provision is unlawful, invalid, and unenforceable. Georgia state
law suggests that teachers have until June 1
st
to decline the acceptance of a contract for the 2014-2015
school year. More importantly, however, under Georgia law a liquidated damages provision is only
lawful if first, the injury caused by the breach is difficult or impossible to accurately estimate; second,
the parties must intend to provide for damages rather than for a penalty; and third, the sum stipulated
must be a reasonable pre-estimate of the probable loss. See O.C.G.A. 13-6-7; see Southeastern Land
Fund, Inc. v. Real Estate World, Inc., 237 Ga. 227, 227 S.E.2d 340 (1976).

For our respective clients, the $750.00 represents a penalty and is not a reasonable pre-estimate of
probable loss. Id. In fact, regarding each of our clients cases, their early resignations would not cause
the District to suffer or incur any financial loss at all, evidenced by the fact that our clients have
already been informed that their positions were immediately filled by other teachers. Consequently,
the provision fails to meet the required third element under Georgia law, as it is unlikely any teacher
who resigns prior to the end of the 2013-2014 school year would cause the District to lose any amount
of money. Id.

Moreover, the provision also fails to meet the requisite second element under Georgia law as it is
clearly intended as a penalty, a penalty that can only be intended as a deterrent to keep teachers from
transferring outside the school district. This point is made clear by Dr. Tova Jackson Davis email,
which threatened: if we are not notified of your decision via email by said date, your resignation will
be processed as job abandonment and penalties may apply. Relevantly, and with that email language
in mind, under Georgia law, if there is any doubt as to the proper construction of this particular
liquidated-damages provision, a court will favor the construction that holds the stipulated sum to be a
penalty, and therefore void. There simply is no doubt, however, that the subject provision is a penalty
and thus a restraint on trade.





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STATEMENTS THREATENING PSC VIOLATIONS ARE IN THEMSELVES UNETHICAL:

Furthermore, the threats made and directed to our clients were in themselves a violation of the Standard
of Ethics concerning honesty. These educators seeking release of their contracts were informed via
email that to do so would be considered unethical conduct, and an abandonment of contract by the
PSCstatements that represent a clear threat to our clients livelihood, i.e. their teaching certification.

This threat was a clear misrepresentation and should be retracted. The PSCs internal guidelines as
publically published make clear that the Commission does not consider any resignation prior to June 1
st

to be a violation or actionable offense. The Commission has stated that it would not sanction an
educator for abandonment of a contract if a resignation is tendered prior to June 1st. Moreover, these
threats have deeply traumatized and injured the morale for many of our DeKalb County School District
teachers who are also members of ODE.

OUR DEMAND: PUBLIC SERVANTS ARE NOT INDENTURED SERVANTS:

Each of our clients hereby give notice of their intent to resign. We demand that our clients be fairly
released from their contracts and that their current payroll funded by already earned wages from the
2013-2014 school year is not unlawfully deducted this summer as a penalty for resigning. In the event
they are not fairly released from their contracts, our clients request an 1160 hearing on this issueand
that all other non-futile administrative remedies be immediately afforded.

If our clients are not offered an 1160 hearing or alternative administrative remedy and are subjected to
a penalty, we anticipate filing suit seeking declaratory judgment and injunctive relief on this matter.
Nevertheless, we wish to provide the Superintendent and his administration the opportunity to exercise
their leadership in resolving this matter privately, thereby avoiding any and all public spectacle.

THE LARGER PROBLEM:

A current war on public education and its teachers exist. This can be seen through the for-profit charter,
out of state corporate takeover of Georgia which has been successful in buying Constitutional
Amendments, entire Boards of Education, and various members of the Legislature co-opted in the
ongoing effort to control the largest piece of our States budget pie. It is reflected in this recent Georgia
election year and includes the State School Superintendent race. And it can also be seen through
powerful, anti-union lobbying groups funded by the Koch Brothers and Walton family, whose attack on
basic constitutional rights threatens integrated, equal access schooling for our children and the right to
fair dismissal for our teachers. The war on public education has eroded teacher morale as more and
more of good educators are driven out of this profession by high stakes testing mania, and incessantly
unreasonable demands.

OUR PROPOSED SOLUTION TO RESOLVING THIS MATTER:

Superintendent Michael Thurmond, you have a track-record of supporting public education and
teachers throughout your history as a public servant. We ask that you exercise your leadership by
addressing this problem in a fair way that does not contribute to further diminishing teacher morale, in
the way this regrettable contractual provision has done. Consider both removing and revising the
contractual, penalty provision next year to afford teachers opportunities outside of the District while at
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the same time insuring that they provide reasonable, advance notice. For this year, exercise your
discretion by fairly releasing our clients and other ODE/GAE members who have requested a
reasonable release at the earliest opportunity they could do so. Do not seek to enforce an unlawful
contractual provision that would likely be invalidated by the Courts, and even if it were held to be
enforceable, would further diminish employee morale within the District.

We trust that you will exercise your leadership, which you have shown immeasurably in revitalizing
and restoring this school district, by resolving this matter fairly and equitably.

Very truly yours,



JULIE J. OINONEN

Cc: Georgia Association of Educators, Legal Services Director, Michael McGonigle, via email.
Organization of DeKalb Educators, David Schutten, via email.
Senator Ronald Ramsey, Office of Legal Affairs in DeKalb County School District, via email.