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Bradley suit against BOE dismissed

By By JAMES CRAWFORD
News Editor
With funding troubles and possible losses of teachers and schools, the Escambia County Board of Education finally received some good news this week.
ECBOE Superintendent Melvin "Buck" Powell confirmed on Monday that the board had received a favorable ruling in the lawsuit brought by Margaret Breland-Bradley against the board.
"The judge dismissed it. It's about a 26-page document and I haven't had a chance to read all of it yet. It's been a distraction for two years and it's been a financial strain on us and we're already financially strained," Powell said. "It's definitely good news for us. We're all relieved that it's over. Now we can focus on the children of Escambia County."
Bradley served as superintendent for 21 months but failed to receive a contract renewal in April 2000 by a vote of 4-3. Bradley filed a lawsuit accusing present and former board members of discrimination based on sex and race.
Bradley accused several defendants of denying her right to be free of "arbitrary, capricious and discriminatory decision making, in violation of the 14th amendment."
According to documentation filed with the court, Bradley said she was told her contract would be extended at the end of her initial two-year contract. She also claimed interference from board members in carrying out responsibilities as superintendent.
Senior U.S. District Judge W.B. Hand ruled granted a summary judgement as requested by the plaintiffs (BOE) which stated that the former superintendent was not able to that the board's actions to dismiss her were based on race or sex.
"(The) plaintiff has failed to produce sufficient evidence to discredit the board's non-discriminatory reasons for voting to not renew her contract," the summary judgement stated.
According to Hand's decision, Bradley fell short in establishing her case against the four board members.
"Even assuming that the plaintiff was 'qualified' for prima facie case purposes, the plaintiff must discredit the four board members' reasons for voting to not renew her contract at the pretext stage. It is at this stage that the plaintiff's case fails," the summary stated.
The summary went on to state that "the defendant board, through three of the four members who voted against renewing the plaintiff's contract listed a spate fo non-discriminatory reasons for ruling as it did."
The ruling provides some insight into the decision by the four members of the board who voted against renewing Bradley's contract. Jimmy Dukes, Michael Goolsby, Janice Ash and the late A.D. Johnson voted against renewing the contract while Larry Madden, Danny Benjamin and Willie Grissett voted to renew.
Ash explained that she was concerned about school system employees who were dissatisified under the leadership of Bradley.
"Ash testified that she received weekly complaints about the number of people retiring from or quitting their employment with the school system," the summary stated.
Financial concerns were also a reason that the four board members voted against renewing the contract.
"Baxter Baker made the board aware of the fact that Dr. Bradley was making changes regarding federal programs that were wrong and would result in chargebacks when audited," Dukes said in his tesitimony.
Dukes was also concerned about the plaintiff's "issuance of American Express credit cards to some employees without seeking board approval," He said those charges were paid on invoices that would not normally be seen by the board which he described as being "very disturbing."
Board members also voiced concerns during the testinomy regarding Bradley's "not letting the principals function in the capacities that they should," "her inability to see an idea through," "that board members were being left out of decisions" and that "facts were not being presented truthfully to the board."
In his testimony, Goolsby said he was concerned with some of Bradley's spending practices and gave an example of a Navigator computer program that cost the system over $100,000. He re-iterated the concerns regarding "good people that we were losing from the system."
A.D. Johnson died in January 2002. He never testified regarding his decision to vote against the contract renewal.
The summary judgement also said that BOE Attorney Susan Reeves approached Bradley in May 2000 with several offers from the board to buy out the remainder of her contract. Bradley said she "would not consider a 'buy-out' since she had performed well."
Bradley defends her tenure as superintendent by pointing out that she left the school system with over $5 million in reserve and that she received the praise of Marvin Taylor, special projects accountant for the Alabama Department of Education.
(Editor's Note: Robert Blankenship of The Brewton Standard contributed to this story.)