Spainhour v. Dover Pub. Sch. Dist.

Annotate this Case
Teresa SPAINHOUR v. DOVER PUBLIC SCHOOL
DISTRICT

97-533                                             ___ S.W.2d ___

                    Supreme Court of Arkansas
               Opinion delivered January 15, 1998


1.   Schools & school districts -- Teacher Fair Dismissal Act --
     strict compliance required. -- The Teacher Fair Dismissal Act
     was amended by Act 625 of 1989, codified at Ark. Code Ann. 
     6-17-1503 (Repl. 1993), which in relevant part provided that
     a nonrenewal, termination, suspension, or other disciplinary
     action by a school district is void unless the school district
     strictly complies with all provisions of the act and any
     amendments, and the school district's applicable personnel
     policies.

2.   Schools & school districts -- Teacher Fair Dismissal Act --
     substantial compliance no longer sufficient -- untimely notice
     of nonrenewal results in automatic renewal. -- Substantial
     compliance no longer governs Teacher Fair Dismissal Act cases;
     the General Assembly stated unequivocally in Act 625 of 1989
     that there must be strict compliance with the Act before a
     nonrenewal, termination, or suspension may be put into effect;
     the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act requires strict compliance with
     all its provisions, otherwise, a nonrenewal, termination,
     suspension, or other disciplinary action by the school
     district is void; if notice of nonrenewal is not given to the
     teacher before May 1 of the contract year, the teacher's
     contract is automatically renewed for the next school year. 
3.   Schools & school districts -- appellee failed to comply with
     Act -- case remanded for entry of proper order. -- Where
     appellee failed to comply with  6-17-1509 of the Teacher Fair
     Dismissal Act by failing to give the appellant a hearing
     before it voted not to renew her contract, the fact that the
     Board subsequently held a meeting in which it substantially
     complied with the hearing provisions of  6-17-1509 was not
     sufficient; substantial compliance is no longer the rule after
     Act 625's passage; the trial court incorrectly found the
     Board's action not to renew appellant did not violate the
     Arkansas Teacher Fair Dismissal Act; the supreme court
     remanded the case to the trial court for entry of an order
     consistent with its opinion.


     Appeal from Pope Circuit Court; John S. Patterson, Judge;
circuit court and court of appeals reversed and remanded.
     Roachell Law Firm, by:  Travis N. Creed, for appellant.
     McCormick & Kennedy, P.A., by:  David H. McCormick, for
appellee.
     Reversed and remanded.
     Tom Glaze, Justice.
     Teresa Spainhour petitions for the review of the court of
appeals' three-three decision, affirming the trial court's ruling
that the Dover School District's action complied with the Arkansas
Teacher Fair Dismissal Act when the District voted not to renew
Spainhour's teaching contract.  See Spainhour v. Dover School
Dist., 57 Ark. App. 195, 943 S.W.2d 610 (1997).  We reverse the
trial court's and court of appeals' decisions. 
     The facts are essentially undisputed, and are correctly set
forth in the court of appeals' prevailing opinion.  Our difference
with the court of appeals' opinion is its erroneous reliance on
Murray v. Altheimer-Sherrill Public Schools, 294 Ark. 403, 743 S.W.2d 789 (1988).  We repeat only those facts needed to understand
the court's misapplication of the Murray holding to Spainhour's
situation.
     In 1988, Spainhour was hired by the District, and was a
Chapter One high school teacher and coordinator for the Dover
School District's vocational educational program.  The program was
largely dependent upon the availability of federal funds.  In 1993,
the District's superintendent, Dr. Richard Paul, became aware that
federal funds might be cut, and he notified Spainhour of his strong
concerns that the Chapter One program might be eliminated.  Later,
by letter dated April 12, 1994, Paul informed Spainhour that, in
accordance with Ark. Code Ann.  6-17-1506 (Supp. 1997) of the
Teacher Fair Dismissal Act, he was notifying her that his
recommendation to the Board at its May 9, 1994 meeting would be not
to renew her contract for the 1994-1995 school year.  Paul's April
12 letter further related he was forced to make this recommendation
because of the lack of sufficient funding of the Chapter One
program, but advised further that, in the event an opening occurred
within the district in an area for which she was qualified,
Spainhour would be considered for any new position according to the
terms of the district policy.  
     Although Ark. Code Ann.  6-17-1509 (Repl. 1993) of the
Teacher Fair Dismissal Act provides that a teacher, receiving a
notice of nonrenewal, has thirty days after its receipt to request
a hearing, the Board here held its meeting on May 9th -- less than
thirty days after receipt -- when it first decided not to renew
Spainhour's contract.  Spainhour timely requested a hearing by
letter dated May 12, 1994, but the Board did not conduct that
hearing until May 18, 1994, or after it had already accepted Dr.
Paul's recommendation not to renew Spainhour's contract on May 9th. 

     By letter dated May 19, 1994, the Board formally notified
Spainhour that the May 18th hearing had been conducted to consider
Paul's original nonrenewal recommendation, and the Board's prior
(May 9) decision to accept it.  The Board's letter concluded that,
after hearing testimony and reviewing the evidence, the Board again
accepted Dr. Paul's recommendation.     
     Spainhour appealed the Board's decision to circuit court,
claiming the Board's actions had violated the Teacher Fair
Dismissal Act.  Upon reviewing the Board's May 18 proceedings and
additional testimony presented on appeal, the trial court upheld
the Board's ruling.  
     In her appeal to the court of appeals, Spainhour again argued
that, notwithstanding the Board's statement at its May 18 meeting
that it would reconsider its May 9 decision without any
preconceived ideas, the Board clearly did not do so, since it did
not renew Spainhour's contract even though she had been denied an
opportunity to be heard as required by law.  The court of appeals
disagreed with Spainhour's argument that the Board failed to comply
with the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act.  In doing so, the court of
appeals relied on Murray, 294 Ark. 403, 743 S.W.2d 789, and
concluded that the Board's May 18 hearing afforded Spainhour all of
her rights under the Act and that the actions of the Board strictly
complied with the Act.  We must disagree.
     The Murray decision was rendered in 1988 and, like the present
case, the school board, upon recommendation of the superintendent,
voted not to renew the teacher's (Billy J. Murray's) contract. 
Realizing that it had voted not to renew Murray's contract before
affording notice and an opportunity to be heard, the school board
met again and rescinded its earlier vote.  The school board then
granted Murray's subsequent request for a hearing and, at the
conclusion of the hearing, voted again not to renew Murray's
teaching contract.  The trial court upheld the board's decision. 
Citing Green Forest Public Schools v. Herrington, 287 Ark. 43, 696 S.W.2d 714 (1985), the Murray court stated that, while the Teacher
Fair Dismissal Act contemplates that notice and an opportunity to
be heard be given a teacher before the school board votes not to
renew the teacher's contract, the court held the board's rescission
of its earlier vote on Murray's contract constituted "substantial
compliance" with the Act.  In sum, the court said that because the
school board had formally rescinded its prior vote and its attorney
had cautioned board members not to base their vote on any
preconceived notions, the board's error had been cured.
     Following the Murray decision, the General Assembly amended
the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act by enacting Act 625 of 1989
[codified at Ark. Code Ann.  6-17-1503 (Repl. 1993)].  Act 625 in
relevant part provides as follows:
          A nonrenewal, termination, suspension, or other
     disciplinary action by a school district shall be void
     unless the school district strictly complies with all
     provisions of this act and any amendments hereto, and the
     school district's applicable personnel policies.
(Emphasis added.)
     Since Act 625's passage, the court has had four occasions to
consider the strict compliance language employed by the Act. 
Hannon v. Armorel Sch. Dist. #9, 329 Ark. 267, 946 S.W.2d 950
(1997); Lester v. Mount Vernon-Enola Sch. Dist., 323 Ark. 728, 917 S.W.2d 540 (1996); Hamilton v. Pulaski County Special Sch. Dist.,
321 Ark. 261, 900 S.W.2d 205 (1995); Western Grove Sch. Dist. v.
Terry, 318 Ark. 316, 885 S.W.2d 300 (1994).  In Terry, the court
made it very clear that substantial compliance no longer governs
Teacher Fair Dismissal Act cases, as the General Assembly has
spoken unequivocally in Act 625 of 1989 that there must be strict
compliance with the Act before a nonrenewal, termination, or
suspension may be put into effect.  Id. at 322.  And in Hannon, the
court concluded that the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act requires strict
compliance with all its provisions; otherwise, a nonrenewal,
termination, suspension, or other disciplinary action by the school
district is void.  329 Ark. at 271.  The Hannon court further
observed that, with respect to nonrenewal specifically, if notice
of nonrenewal is not given to the teacher before May 1 of the
contract year, the teacher's contract is automatically renewed for
the next school year.  Id.
     The record before us is barren of ambiguity -- the Dover
School District failed to comply with  6-17-1509 of the Teacher
Fair Dismissal Act by failing to give Spainhour a hearing before it
voted not to renew her contract.  The District argues that any
"procedural error" that may have occurred as a result of its
failure to provide Spainhour with a hearing prior to its vote not
to renew her contract was cured when, at the beginning of the
May 18 hearing, Spainhour's representative questioned each board
member as to whether they could be fair or impartial.  However,
although the Board's subsequent meeting of May 18, 1994 might be
said to have substantially complied with the hearing provisions of
 6-17-1509, substantial compliance is no longer the rule after Act
625's passage.
     In conclusion, we note the District's contention that the
May 9, 1994 meeting had been conducted solely for the purpose of
eliminating the Chapter One program, not to consider whether to
renew Spainhour's contract.  However, such contention is clearly
not supported by the record.  In particular, Dr. Paul's April 12
letter states his recommendation to the Board would be not to renew
Spainhour, and the trial court found the Board's action not to
renew Spainhour did not violate the Arkansas Teacher Fair Dismissal
Act.
     Accordingly, we remand the case to the trial court for entry
of an order consistent with this opinion.
     Reversed and remanded.