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Local Government School Board Debates Suspension With Pay Amid Fears of Setting New Precedent


BRADENTON -- At Monday night's school board meeting, board members came to a stalemate on whether an employee recommended for termination should be given pay during her suspension. They debated whether suspending the employee with pay would create a new and negative precedent to follow, as it may open up claims of discrimination if motions for future suspensions without pay are passed. The vote was 2-2, as board member Barbara Harvey was absent from the meeting.

Attorney Erin Jackson, representing the state, said that county school teacher Emilee Vermilion was recommended for termination due to excessive absenteeism and gross insubordination, among other reasons. Jackson also said, "We object to her providing any evidence or anyone speaking on her behalf, as that is consistent with our policy."

The employee, present at the meeting, then came up to speak on her own personal behalf. She said she disagreed that this was not the time to present facts, and began defending herself. School Board Attorney John Bowen stepped in, saying her comments should be restricted to whether or not she should be suspended without pay pending the outcome of Ms. Vermillion's hearing. Vermillion said she believed she should not. Superintendant Tim McGonegal asked Jackson if the employee's hearing could be expedited as she is currently without pay. Jackson stated that such a decision would ultimately be up to the judges in the case, but that she would make an effort to get the hearing expedited.

Bowen remarked that school board policy has been to suspend without pay for all cases. He said that if the employee were to be suspended with pay, then that decision would set a new precedent, as they would have to vote to suspend with pay for all future cases. He said this was because any future suspensions without pay would be susceptable to claims of discrimination by the unpaid suspendees.

Before the vote, a motion was made by board member Bob Gause for the employee's hearing to be expedited due to the employee currently being without pay. The motion was approved 4-0. After a 2-2 vote on the pay issue, board member Harry Kinnan said the board is not taking action one way or another, as the tie vote meant that they had not successfully suspended, nor not suspended her pay.

Board member Karen Carpenter said she did not feel a sense of policy precedent, and felt that it could be decided by a case-by-case basis. Bowen diagreed, stating his view again. The meeting was then paused; after board members reconvened, McGonegal said he agreed that suspending with pay would set a detrimental precedent for the board. Carpenter asked what would potentially be the financial impact of setting a new precedent of suspending with pay. McGonegal said that the answer to that question would be looked into. A motion to table the vote on the issue passed unanimously. 

For full agenda results from Monday night's school board meeting, click here.


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