Pine Bluff School District Superintendent Jerry O. Payne received a letter of termination Wednesday morning from School Board President Herman Horace.

Pine Bluff School District Superintendent Jerry O. Payne received a letter of termination Wednesday morning from School Board President Herman Horace.

Payne was told to expect the termination letter during a closed-door executive session of the board at a special called meeting Tuesday night.

The letter, dated Feb. 29 and signed by Horace, states that it serves as official notice to Payne of the board decision to terminate his contract as of June 30, 2012.

The letter quotes a section of Payne’s contract pertaining to contract termination that allows the board to terminate the contract agreement without good cause effective June 30 of any year of the contract by giving 120 days written notice to the superintendent.

“This provision allows the board, by giving written notice 120 days or more before June 30, 2012, to the superintendent that it intends to terminate the agreement effective June 30, 2012, if the board decides to do that without any reason other than its desire to do so,” the conclusion of the letter reads.

On Tuesday, Payne defended the job he has done since coming to the district in June 2011. He and the board have sparred publicly for the past several months.

“My sincere concern is when you are not able to provide a level of leadership,” Payne said. “Every day I’ve done my job since I was recruited for this job.”

Legal questions

Payne said in an interview after the Tuesday board meeting that he had encouraged the board to hold the discussion about his contract in open session and hold a roll-call vote during open session. Payne said they refused.

John E. Tull III — general counsel for the Arkansas Press Association and a founding member of Little Rock law firm Quattlebaum, Grooms, Tull & Burrow PLLC — said the board likely ran afoul of Arkansas Freedom of Information Act law when it refused to take the actions recommended by Payne.

“They should have had a vote,” Tull said. “Under the rules of FOI to make it valid, a description has to be made and a vote taken in open session. I am not an expert on school district law but I would think there would have to have been a vote. There is a process and procedure to be followed for dismissal of school employees.”

Under Section 25-19-106 (4) of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, “no resolution, ordinance, rule, contract, regulation or motion considered or arrived at in executive session will be legal unless, following the executive session, the public body reconvenes in public session and presents and votes on the resolution, ordinance, rule, contract, regulation or motion.”