Embattled Superintendent Back on the Job

June 3, 2003
Posted at: 6:17 p.m. CDT

MANILA, Ark. - A preliminary injunction is allowing the Manila school district superintendent to maintain her job for the time being.

Embattled superintendent Charlotte Wagner was appointed to the job with a two-year contract from the school board.

Prior to her contract running out, the Manila School Board decided that it would not renew Wagner's employment, prompting Wagner to sue the school board.

Wagner says she made a verbal agreement with the school board: If she made progress toward her state certification, her contract would be renewed. Wagner says she taken classes for her certification, but says the board fired her for personal reasons.

According to a court deposition, board member Robert Veach said, on at least one occasion, "that it might be better for the superintendent to be a man."

In victory for Wagner, a Second Judicial District Judge Victor Hill upheld a preliminary injunction against the School Board. Hunter Williams, the attorney for Wagner, says the ruling is indicative of the strength of Wagner's case against the school board.

"There are two things the court must find," Williams said. "Number one, there's likelihood of success.

"Judge Hill found yesterday if Ms. Wagner's case proceeds to trial on the merits, he believe that she's going to win," Williams said. "Secondly, you would have to prove irrefutable harm."

Williams believes that irrefutable harm was made when Wagner's contract was not renewed. One school board member, who refused to comment on the record with KAIT, testified that the verbal contract agreement had indeed been broken. Williams also believes several depositions made by school board members helped his case.

"(Wagner is) the first woman that the Manila school board has employed as Superintendent of Schools," Williams said. "All the men before her were given a long period of time to serve before her."

Court papers also indicate that at Wagner may never be hired back after filing suit by the district. The defense believes that Hill's decision is unprecedented.

"It's an extension of the existing law in Arkansas," Manila School Board attorney Mike Gibson said. "Basically, it turns our education system upside down."

Gibson says the board has a right to hire or fire, whomever they choose without explaining why.

"They are elected by the people to do that," he said. "But this order prohibited them from doing that."

Hill's injunction allows Wagner to keep her job on a temporary basis until there is a final trial. Wagner's initial victory, however, may be short-lived.

"We're going to appeal the case to the (state) Supreme Court," Gipson said of the board's next option in the case. "It's unprecedented in the law."