Clear mind, full heart — CCS employees relieved to settle

Published 3:04 pm Friday, November 17, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Carey Reeder | Managing Editor

Almost a month after the lawsuit by Chilton County Schools employees Christie Payne and Shellie Smith to repay overpaid wages was settled, the two employees are now enjoying a clear mind serving the students at their respective schools.

Payne, a child nutrition manager at Verbena High School, and Smith, a nursing instructor at LeCroy Career Technical Center, settled the lawsuit on Oct. 25, and although they were in their schools during litigation, they are enjoying the clear mind heading to work each day.

Payne said there was relief for her to see the lawsuit settled after over a year and a half of litigation, in an interview after the settlement in October. She added that it was a difficult time for herself and her family, but “it is time to move on … get back to our jobs and focus on what we are supposed to do every day, and take care of the children.”

Smith said in an interview following the settlement that she is glad she “does not have to pay this money back, and focus on my students where I need to be.”

The trail for the lawsuit, which was filed originally on May 20, 2022 by the Alabama Education Association, was set for 9 a.m. on Oct. 25. However, after over two hours of discussions, the two sides reached an agreement and it was presented to Judge Sibley Reynolds. Reynolds also denied a motion to dismiss the case in October 2022, and the Alabama Supreme Court denied a motion to dismiss the case in February 2023.

Payne and Smith will not have to pay back overpaid wages that occurred when both started a new position around the 2016-2017 school year. Instead of beginning at the starting pay rate for their new positions, both were paid at a rate for years of service in the position.

The settlement also states that the employees should continue to be paid at the same rate they were being paid.

Both employees were sent letters signed by former CCS Superintendent Jason Griffin stating that Payne owed $23,465.40 and Smith owed $32,948 in overpaid wages in 2022. The AEA represented the employees throughout the process, and the lawsuit was suing Griffin and not the school board because there was never a board vote on the record to send the letters.

“This is a great win for Ms. Payne and Ms. Smith, and a huge win for all AEA members,” AEA President Dr. Susan Williams Brown said in a press release. “This shows that AEA is there to fight for educators when it matters most, and we are ready to assist them when they need us.”

In the future, the school board can adjust the two employees’ salaries, but that would require a hearing conducted by the board. The AEA said they “will vigorously fight any efforts to lower Ms. Payne and Ms. Smith’s salaries before the Chilton County Board of Education,” in the press release. CCS Superintendent Corey Clements said he is glad to have the issue resolved.