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Woodbury principal takes District 833 to court claiming pay disparity involving former Park High School principal

Woodbury High School's principal is taking District 833 to court after dealing with a situation internally didn't yield her any results.

Linda Plante, who's been the principal at WHS for 18 years, is concerned over pay disparities she discovered when former Park High School Principal Craig Paul was hired in 2011, according to court documents filed in Washington County District Court in February.

All principals in the district are hired under a contract that lists a pay schedule with set amounts for senior high principals that advance depending on their tenure.

Plante alleges Paul received about $60,000 more than what the contract requires in his one year with the district, according to her attorney, Phil Villaume.

"That's basically what it comes down to," he said.

Plante previously filed multiple grievances that were rejected by the school district, court documents state, and now she's asking the court to decide whether she's entitled to mandatory arbitration or not.

"As an administrator she was treated differently than the other principal who had a one-year contract," Villaume said. "He got paid more."

Park High School had a vacancy when former Principal Efe Agbamu resigned in July of 2011.

Former Superintendent Mark Porter announced a week later that Paul, who had just returned from Egypt where he was director for the American International School, would serve as interim principal for a year until a permanent replacement was hired.

Porter previously told the South Washington County Bulletin that there wasn't enough time to work through the selection process since the school year was set to begin a month later.

After Jan. 1, an "appropriate process" would be put in place to have a permanent principal named by July 1, 2012, Porter said.

In a Jan. 26, 2012, meeting, District 833 School Board approved changing Paul's status from "interim" to permanent principal of Park High School beginning in July 2012, according to meeting minutes.

Paul then began his second year as principal of the school last fall, but surprised staff and students on the first day of school when he announced he was stepping down.

In an interview with the South Washington County Bulletin, Paul said he could not commit to working beyond this school year. He has twice come out of retirement for interim positions, and said he never planned a lengthy tenure at Park.

"They're trying to say the compensation package could be different because he was an interim," said East Ridge High School Principal Aaron Harper. "Typically interim by definition is defined as something less than a full contractual year."

Harper, who's worked for the school district for seven years, is not involved in the legal dispute. However, he filed his own petition expressing concerns over the pay disparities.

"It's my understanding and interpretation from talking with Craig Paul that he was compensated differently," he said.

When Harper and Plante became aware of the situation, they brought it up to Superintendent Keith Jacobus and former Board Chairwoman Leslee Boyd, Harper said.

The principals went through the internal process the contract aligns, but ended up with multiple grievances rejected by the district, Harper added.

"I believe the only other option moving forward was to file for a judge to make a ruling on whether or not the situation can be arbitrated," he said. "Which is what Linda Plante has already done."

Multiple messages seeking comment from District 833 Attorney Michael Waldspurger were not returned.

Villaume said his client has a strong case because the district was willing to hear the grievances, but is not open to a resolution by the court.

"Since they've done part of it we feel they're obligated to do all of it," he said.

It's not so much about the legal process for Harper, though, he said that will all work itself out. Rather, he said it's more about what the situation says about the relationship between district officials and the principals.

"I think the unstated element here is the breach in trust and the intended or unintended message to the employee and to the principal group that this sort of behind-the-scenes negotiations is taking place," he said, later adding, "This situation is not about money, this is not about compensation, this situation is about equity. It's about doing ethically what's right."

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.