Federal judge: Machiasport let principal go due to budget cuts, not abuse

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff
Posted Feb. 21, 2012, at 1:26 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A federal judge has ruled the Machiasport School Department did not breach the contract of a former principal when it cut her position in 2008 due to reductions in state funding.

Patricia A. Godin, who was principal at Fort O’Brien School, sued the district and the school board after her position was eliminated. Godin, 59, of Trescott Township claimed the school department used the loss of state funding as an excuse to fire her after members of the community complained to the school board and at least one individual accused her of physically abusing two students.

An investigation into the abuse allegations by a Portland lawyer cleared Godin of any wrongdoing, according to court documents.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen issued her ruling Friday after hearing testimony for four days the previous week.

“The [school district], on the other hand, presented a strong case that the [reduction in force] was genuine,” Torresen wrote in her 17-page decision. “Faced with a shortfall of approximately $180,000, aware that students were transferring out of the school, concerned about combining even more classrooms, and cognizant that the town’s generosity had a limit, the board faced hard fiscal realities. [Godin] pointed to additional funding streams that the board could have tapped and offered scenarios that would have eliminated positions other than her own; however, the fact that the board could have reorganized is beside the point.”

Those changes in local conditions were sufficient to trigger the reduction-in-force provision in Godin’s contract, which stated she could be let go without cause.

“Ms. Godin’s departure and subsequent lawsuit against the school department and some of its employees has been disruptive to the school and the community at large,” Melissa Hewey, the Portland attorney who represented the district, said in an email Monday of the judge’s decision. “The Machiasport School Department is pleased that the school board has been vindicated for a decision it made in good faith and that the community will finally be able to put this matter behind it and concentrate on the good things that are happening at the Fort O’Brien School.”

Godin was hired in 2006 to work at the school as a three-fourths-time principal and one-fourth-time teacher for the gifted and talented program, according to court documents. She signed a two-year contract.

The goals set for her by the school board included improving test scores and implementing teacher evaluations, Godin testified at her trial. In March 2008, she signed a new three-year contract. A month later, she was placed on paid administrative leave following a school board meeting at which the abuse allegation was made, she told Torresen. She was let go in June.

Her salary in the 2008-2009 school year was to have been about $55,000, according to court documents.

Godin, who sued the district in 2009, testified at the trial on Feb. 7 that since losing her job in Machiasport, she had applied for 90 jobs in her field and had 17 interviews but no job officers. In the lawsuit, she sought $260,00 in damages and back pay.

“Ms. Godin and I are, obviously, extremely disappointed with the Court’s recommended findings of fact and conclusions of law in this difficult matter,” Godin’s attorney, Sandra Collier of Ellsworth, said in an email Tuesday. “We are evaluating all options, including a possible appeal.”

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/02/21/news/down-east/federal-judge-machiasport-let-principal-go-due-to-budget-cuts-not-abuse/ printed on July 23, 2014