Published Online: June 11, 1997

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Retribution or reassignment?

Standing up for what you believe can be fraught with peril, and Victor C. Kirk thinks he's learned that firsthand.

Until recently, Mr. Kirk was executive assistant to the superintendent and chief lobbyist to the state legislature for the East Baton Rouge Parish school district in Baton Rouge, La.

But late last month, after two years of employment, he was told his position had been eliminated--but that he could still keep coming to the office.

His boss, Superintendent Gary S. Mathews, said last week that a two-year transition from one desegregation plan to another is over, "and the position is no longer required." Mr. Kirk, who worked under annual contracts, had been a chief architect of the new desegregation plan.

But Mr. Kirk believes there's more to it than that. The notice came shortly after he testified--as a private citizen--before Louisiana's House education committee, voicing opposition to a bill he says his superintendent ordered him to support.

Mr. Mathews said the two events are not linked and he would not comment on the tax bill. He said district officials do not take public positions on legislation unless the school board has done so, and, in this case, it has not.

The bill Mr. Kirk testified against, which is still pending in the House, would let school districts set up separate taxing districts and, with voter approval, levy up to a 1-cent sales tax to pay for school renovations and construction.

Mr. Kirk opposed the bill, he said, because he sees a sales-tax increase as poor public policy that would disproportionately burden low-income people. "You've got to draw the line somewhere," he said.

Because Mr. Kirk's contract requires the district to give him 120 days' termination notice, he is still going to work and still being paid his $54,000-a-year salary. But he has no official duties and his office computer has been cleared of the ability to track legislation.

Mr. Mathews said the district has no plans to buy out Mr. Kirk's contract, and Mr. Kirk said he has no plans to resign. That means he could stay at his nonjob through late September.

--MILLICENT LAWTON

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