BISD ordered not to pay former coach

Keeath Magee

Jefferson County District Court Judge Milton Sheffield granted an extension to the temporary restraining order won by petitioner Melinda Harper, a Beaumont resident and, thereby, a Beaumont ISD stakeholder, on April 16, preventing the school district from continuing to pay a coach who resigned in February. The coach, Keeath Magee, cited several reasons for his departure, including harassment. 

The extension prevents BISD from paying Magee any more money through at least next week’s hearing.

As part of his resignation agreement, BISD superintendent Timothy Chargois agreed to pay Magee more than what was owed the former coach as long as Magee did not file a grievance or speak ill of BISD.

Harper, represented in court by attorneys Vann deCordova and Mike Getz, asked the court for an order barring BISD from paying Magee any more hush money and for other “reasonable equitable relief.”

According to the request for the temporary restraining order (TRO), “Magee developed several legitimate complaints regarding his job assignment with BISD and threatened to make those complaints public. Magee was told that if he would voluntarily resign from his teaching position and remain silent about his complaints and keep them confidential, BISD would pay him through the term of his contract, even though he resigned and even if he secured other employment.”

To accomplish the payments, Chargois entered into a “Voluntary Separation Agreement and Mutual Release” that states, “Magee and the Board have reached a mutually acceptable agreement,” even though Board Trustees Mike Neil and Tom Neild have vehemently denied ever consenting to any such agreement.

Another problem with the agreement noted in the court proceedings is the absence of a public hearing, which is required by law prior to entering into any such Voluntary Separation Agreement and Mutual Release that would require paying any educator more than the amount owed for services rendered.

“Trustees of the BISD never voted upon or took any official act directing the attorney for the BISD to draft, negotiate or enter into the ‘Voluntary Separation Agreement and Mutual Release,” documents filed with the court contend. Additionally, law has been enacted “to prevent a political subdivision, such as a school district, from being able to pay an employee or former employee an amount owed under a contract with the employee unless the political subdivision holds at least one public hearing with notice of the hearing being provided as required by Chapter 551 of the Texas Government Code. At the public hearing, the political entity is required to state: ‘(1) the reason the payment in excess of the contractual amount is being offered to the employee or former employee, including the public purpose that will be served ... ; and (2) the exact amount of the excess payment, the source ... and the terms for the distribution,” Harper’s attorneys contend.

Getz, one of Harper’s attorneys, said, “This law is designed to expressly prohibit the kind of conduct engaged in by the BISD.”

BISD officials have made arrangements to attempt to ratify the Voluntary Separation Agreement and Mutual Release Chargois signed on behalf of the Board of Trustees.

“The significant public interests at stake weigh overwhelmingly, if not exclusively, in favor of (Harper),” the plaintiff’s court documents assert. “Public policy does not and should not countenance the conduct of the defendants alleged herein.”

Paul Lamp, a Texas Association of School Boards attorney representing BISD to challenge the TRO, said BISD is facing a lawsuit from Magee if the school district does not continue to make payments, and BISD has already missed one payment.

“We received a demand letter from (Magee’s) attorney April 15 saying we have 10 days to make the payment,” Lamp said. It was Lamp’s position that the civil plaintiff would not be harmed if BISD continued to pay, but the school district would be harmed if prevented from paying. He said the money paid to Magee could be recovered at a later date. The judge thought Lamp’s assertions were flawed: Magee would not be ordered to pay back the money. The school district that improperly entered into the agreement would.

“The money being paid is the taxpayer’s money,” Sheffield said. “How can you use taxpayer money to pay back taxpayer money? It’s a circular remedy.”