FT. LAUDERDALE (CBS4) – The Broward School Board voted Tuesday to approve the firing of Miriam Oliphant from her job as a guidance counselor at an alternative high school. Within hours, her attorney filed a demand for a virtual pile of public records relating to Oliphant’s hiring and firing, and hinted she may sue for racial discrimination.
A former School Board member herself, Oliphant was hired January 31st as a counselor at the Dave Thomas Education Center at a salary of $75-thousand a year despite the fact that she had little teaching experience. Previously, she was the county’s Supervisor of Elections but was removed from that office by Governor Jeb Bush for mismanagement.
Oliphant had appeared before the Broward County School Board on Tuesday to beg for her job. During the hearing, Oliphant said her firing was racially motivated.
“I was targeted. This is the worst act of racism, and I am a good person,” Oliphant told the Board.
The Broward School District conducted a review of how she was hired over 55 other applicants for the job.
“I found there were other qualified candidates who were not interviewed,” said Superintendent James Notter at the meeting.
In the review report written by Notter, he stated, “As a result of the review, staff found weaknesses in the screening process. It was determined that there were additional applicants that could have been considered for an interview.”
The review also focused on her salary. When hired, she was given the top salary authorized for the position, a move school officials said was justified because of her experience. However, little of that experience was as a teacher, ruffling the feathers of critics who questioned the decision, and some teachers with more experience who were not considered for the position.
According to the review, “staff was unable to substantiate the determination made regarding Ms. Oliphant’s salary placement. Under the new procedures established this year, Ms. Oliphant would have to provide additional substantive documentation for verification of direct work-related experience in order to receive credit.”
Notter concluded his report by stating, “Due to the results of said review, the District has exercised its authority under Florida Statute 1012.33 (3)(a)4 which prescribes that a newly hired employee on an initial employment contract may be terminated without cause during the first 97 workday probationary period or the employee may resign without breach of contract.
Oliphant offered to give up ten to twenty thousand dollars in salary to retain her position, but the board refused to budge.
However, School Board Member David Thomas feels that more needs to be done. He wants to know where the ball was dropped in regards to Oliphant’s hiring.
“Was it here at the district?” Thomas asked. “Was it at the school site? Where was it? What happened? Why did it happen? And if there’s people that need to be held accountable then they need to be held accountable.”
But, Oliphant may not be done just yet. She has hired well-known labor attorney Karen Amlong to help her determine her next move.
The school board said she can reapply for her job next year.
Oliphant’s attorney, Karen Amlong, issued a statement late Tuesday afternoon saying Oliphant would re-apply for the position. She also took issue with Notter’s reasoning.
“A ‘flawed’ selection process is not a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason to fire someone who has been determined qualified for a position,” said Amlong. “The interview committee selected her, Mr. Notter’s office recommended that the Board hire her and the Board approved her hiring and her salary.”
She noted Oliphant was the only black counselor at the school for high-risk children, and said her client is considering a racial discrimination lawsuit against the school. She has demanded documents from the school district to document Notter’s claim that the process used to hire Oliphant was flawed.
“It will be interesting to see who was not on the ‘short list’ for interviews and whom Mr. Notter believes was unfairly passed over in favor of Ms. Oliphant,” Amlong said. “Once we get the School Board’s response to our request, Ms. Oliphant will decide whether to pursue a race discrimination suit.”