New board terminates interim supe. Do they owe him $60,000?

Interim superintendent Leobardo Cano signed a contract with the school board in Robstown ISD just three days before the board election in 2012.  The contract was just for six months at a salary of $10,000 per month.

The election resulted in a major shakeup on the board, and it took the new board only one month to notify Mr. Cano that his services were no longer needed.  Mr. Cano demanded the severance payment he had negotiated with the previous board, should his employment be terminated early.  The board said no.  Mr. Cano appealed to the Commissioner, who agreed with the board that the district owed him nothing.  Mr. Cano then took the case to Travis County district court, where he was successful. The court ordered the district to pay him $60,000. But now the Court of Appeals has reversed that decision.

The dispute hinged on the language in the interim contract:

This Contract may be terminated by the District at any time prior to its expiration, with or without cause, upon written notice to Superintendent and the payment by the District of an amount equal to six months' salary, or an amount equivalent to the salary for the months remaining in the Contract term at the time of notice, whichever is less.

Mr. Cano argued that this was the only way the contract could be terminated early, and that it obligated the district to pony up the $60K. This argument focused on the provision in the contract that it applied if the termination was "with or without good cause."  But the district argued that it still retained the power to terminate the man's employment based on good cause, and that the severance payment was not owed in that case.  The district cited three specific grounds for termination of employment.  The court ultimately agreed with the district.

The case does not give us any new insights into school law, as the court's analysis is simply a matter of contract interpretation. But what we can learn from this case is how important contract language can be.

The case is Morath v. Cano, decided by the Court of Appeals in Austin on August 17, 2017.    We found it at 2017 WL 3585252.


Tomorrow: Toolbox Tuesday looks at a new provision in Chapter 37, and I will be at Region 18 for the Back to School program. See some of you there!