Can the superintendent move me from principal to assistant principal?

I’m guessing a lot of you think the answer to today’s question is simple: of course the superintendent can do that. Doesn’t the contract give the superintendent the power to “assign and reassign”?  Yes it does, but it took the Texas Court of Appeals 23 pages to uphold the superintendent’s reassignment of Hermenia Jenkins in Crosby ISD.

Ms. Jenkins, ably represented by attorney Kevin Lungwitz, filed a grievance when the superintendent moved her from Intermediate School principal to high school assistant principal. This moved Ms. Jenkins backwards, in her view. She had already been an A.P. at the high school. She was then promoted to principal of the Intermediate School where she served for eight years. Now, it was back to the high school, and downward to an A.P. position. Grievance.

The superintendent denied the grievance. The school board affirmed the superintendent’s decision.  The Commissioner affirmed the board’s decision. The Travis County District Court affirmed the Commissioner’s decision, and now the Court of Appeals has affirmed the District Court.

The case turned on the phrase “same professional capacity.”  Ms. Jenkins argued that “principal” and “assistant principal” were different professional capacities, which would mean that a superintendent could not simply order the principal to take the new job. The superintendent would have to afford the principal a non-renewal hearing and the board would have to approve the move.  In other words, the argument was that moving a principal to an A.P. position is a “nonrenewal” of contract, requiring the procedures that teachers are entitled to when their contracts are not renewed.

Nope.  The court concluded that this phrase—“same professional capacity”—leaves “room for policy determinations.” Therefore, the court held, “we will defer to the Commissioner’s interpretation if it is reasonable and does not contradict the plain language of the statute.”

The court then turned to the Commissioner’s “seminal administrative decision” in which the Commish noted that the phrase in the law was “same professional capacity”—not “exact same position.”  Then this:

It is more reasonable to conclude that the legislature, by using the term, “same professional capacity” (instead of “the exact same position”), intended to allow school districts to be flexible in their personnel assignments while discouraging the abuse of the district’s inherent or contractual reassignment authority….Barich v. San Felipe-Del Rio CISD, (Commissioner Decision, Dkt. No. 117-R1a-484 (1985).

Ultimately the court deferred to T.E.A.:

We also conclude that the Commissioner’s interpretation of section 21.206(b)—that whether a reassignment from the position of principal to a different position is within “the same professional capacity” depends on the particular circumstances, comparing duties, compensation and other relevant factors—is reasonable and does not contradict the language of the statute. As a result, we will defer to the Commissioner’s interpretation and affirm his decision if substantial evidence supports his conclusion that Jenkins’s reassignment was within the same professional capacity.

Substantial evidence did support that conclusion.

This decision does not completely close the door on similar challenges from reassigned principals in the future. The court did not say that a reassignment from principal to assistant is always going to be OK. It said that it would depend on the comparison of “duties, compensation and other relevant factors.”  Here, the compensation was the same; the move was from a smaller school to a larger one; and the superintendent emphasized the important administrative responsibilities Ms. Jenkins would continue to have.

Maybe it’s more accurate to say that the door is closed. It’s just not dead bolted.

The case of Jenkins v. Crosby ISD was decided by the Court of Appeals for the Third District (Austin) on June 15, 2017.


File this one under: TEACHER CONTRACTS