The DeKalb County School Board is facing another lawsuit that could cost it millions of dollars if it goes to trial.
The suit, filed by DeKalb County School District (DCSD) teachers Elaine Gold and Amy Shaye last year, alleges the board owes them, and thousands of other teachers, money that has been withheld from a tax sheltered annuity fund since 2009.
Former Gov. Roy Barnes is representing the plaintiffs and was present June 6 as lawyers from the district argued an appeal. Earlier this year, Judge Clarence Seeliger ruled against the district’s motion to have the case thrown out.
“The court denied the motion to throw the case out and that was what the appeal was about,” Barnes said. “A government should not be able to lie and promise their employees one thing and then do another.”
According to the lawsuit, Gold has been teaching in the system for 18 years and is currently a teacher at Evansdale Elementary. Shaye has been employed for more than two decades and is a school psychologist serving several schools in the area.
The plaintiffs filed the suit on behalf of “themselves and all others similarly situated.” If the case goes forward, Barnes said, they have asked for it to be considered a class action suit. Currently, DCSD faces a $73 million deficit and is involved in another lengthy lawsuit with construction firm Heery/Mitchell, which has already cost upwards of $20 million in lawyer fees.
“I don’t consider it to be costing them anything,” Barnes said if the case moves forward. “They’re obligated to do it. I consider it holding them accountable to what they have contracted to do.”
In 1979, the DeKalb County School Board began seeking alternatives to Social Security, and, according to the lawsuit, passed a resolution authorizing an alternative plan and also requiring that “the board of education shall give a two-year notice to employees before reducing the funding provisions of the Alternative Plan to Social Security.”
However, in 2009 the school board, facing budget cuts and financial strain, voted to freeze contributions to the Tax Sheltered Annuity Plan (TSA Plan) without giving the required two-year notice. The suit also alleges the board realized the mistake and tried to “paper over” it by waiving the policy that required two-year notification.
According to the lawsuit:
“On May 10, 2010, the Board realized its error. During a meeting the Board was informed that its termination of the funding for the plan constituted a violation of the Board’s own policies, including the two-year notice requirement…the Board decided to ‘waive’ the Board policy that required it to give a two-year notice to its employees.”
A decision on the appeal could take several months but Barnes said he considers it a clear case.
“These people came out of Social Security based on the promise that they would continue to have this benefit and now they’re trying to renege on the promise and that’s just wrong. If an individual did that we’d call it cheating and swindling,” Barnes said.