OKLAHOMA CITY -- According to a statement released by Oklahoma Representative Mike Reynolds, the Broken Arrow school district was advised it was breaking state law by paying teachers for unused sick leave, a memo he obtained revealed.
Reynolds said he provided the memo to State Auditor and Inspector Steve Burrage and Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris to facilitate an investigation of the school district.
"As I have previously stated, it is my understanding that the Broken Arrow school district provided employees as much as $242,000 in apparently illegal payments for unused sick leave," said Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City. "District officials have insisted that the practice was legal, but it is now clear their own attorney disagreed."
Reynolds' statement indicated that a Feb. 26, 2004 document by school attorney J. Douglas Mann advised Cathey Metevelis of the Broken Arrow School District that payments for unused sick leave were illegal.
Reynolds said in the document, Mann notes that Broken Arrow's policy allowed teachers to be paid for any unused sick leave greater than 120 days of accumulated leave. Under state law, Mann concluded that such payments could be made to teachers only upon "termination of employment."
"It is my understanding that your sick leave plan allows payment for accrued but unused sick leave while the individual remains employed with the District and after accumulating a total of 120 sick leave days. The Oklahoma Statutes do not permit a school board to include in its sick leave plan payment for accrued but unused sick leave prior to termination," Mann wrote.
"Accordingly, it is my opinion that any board policy or negotiated collective bargaining provisions which allow a teacher to be paid for accrued but unused sick leave prior to termination of employment is unlawful under the clear terms" of Oklahoma law.
After Reynolds highlighted the Broken Arrow school district's reported payments for unused sick leave in January, Reynolds said he was contacted by Mann, who claimed to represent Broken Arrow and up to 300 other Oklahoma school districts. In that conversation, Reynolds said Mann claimed the payments not illegal.
"I have now obtained a copy of legal advice given by Mann contradicting that claim," Reynolds said. "As a state legislator it is shocking to think that an attorney for over half of the school boards in Oklahoma would try to deceive me or any other official that he might contact on behalf of a client."