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Published in Print: June 5, 2002, as Wyo. District Sues Teacher Who Quit After Signing On

Wyo. District Sues Teacher Who Quit After Signing On

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In an effort to try to hang on to its teachers, the school district in Green River, Wyo., has filed a lawsuit against a teacher who resigned before she ever started her job.

The 2,700-student Sweetwater County School District No. 2 sued Angela Banks, alleging breach of contract, on April 3. The district is seeking $5,571.47 in damages, plus court fees, according to the lawsuit.

Ms. Banks, who had taught for a year at the district's middle school, had accepted a position as a secondary school home economics teacher and signed a contract on May 31 of last year. But in August, she applied for a position with neighboring Sweetwater County School District No. 1 and resigned from the first district, according to court documents.

The district board of trustees refused her resignation, however, arguing that since she missed a May 15 deadline to notify the district that she wanted to leave, Ms. Banks had to stay, said Dennis Golden, the board's chairman.

"Getting someone to fill a spot is tough, so we've had to stop the floodgates," he said of the district's decision to sue. "Even if she'd tendered her resignation in June, we'd have said, 'OK, good luck.' But when you wait until August, we think, 'Do you hate us?'"

The district's school year began Aug. 29.

Hard to Compete

Like many school systems across the country, Mr. Golden's district is struggling to hire and keep teachers. Its rural nature and shrinking population have proved to be a disadvantage, school officials say, making it hard to compete with higher-paying cities such as Denver and Salt Lake City

At least nine of the district's 245 teachers have left since 2000, Mr. Golden said, and several more plan to leave.

Kathryn Valido, who represents Wyoming on the National Education Association's board of directors, said it was "extremely rare" for a district to take such a drastic measure as suing a teacher for breach of contract. But she's not surprised.

"There's a sense of frustration school districts have with this [teacher shortage]," Ms. Valido said. "Perhaps this is severe enough for teachers to give second thoughts on leaving."

Ms. Banks now teaches 1st grade in the Sweetwater No. 1 district. She denies that she breached her contract and disputes the amount of damages her former employer seeks, according to court documents. That amount covers advertising, personnel, and other costs incurred to fill her position.

The teacher had no ill will toward the Sweetwater No. 2 district, said Chad Banks, her husband. She left to teach in the area in which she's certified—elementary education—and so she could stay closer to home. With a 31/2-year-old daughter and another child on the way, Ms. Banks didn't want to commute 30 miles each day to Green River, he said.

"This situation has been horrendous," Mr. Banks said. "Green River is trying to set an example with this."

Vol. 21, Issue 39, Page 3

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