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July 19, 2003

One person can't lead blind, deaf schools

From: Baxter Bulletin, AR - Jul 19, 2003

Associated Press Writer

LITTLE ROCK -- The state attorney general's office said Friday that one person cannot lead both the Arkansas School for the Blind and the Arkansas School for the Deaf.

Trustees for the schools in June asked Deaf School Superintendent Sandra Lunestad to step down. Lunestad was hired by the Arkansas board last June.

The board then appointed Jim Hill, who is superintendent of the Blind School, as interim superintendent for the Deaf School also. Board members said the move would save the school $50,000.

Together, the schools have an enrollment of 250, not including outreach programs.

Lunestad said she found out after the resignation vote that state law requires the two schools to have separate superintendents. She has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging sex discrimination.

Friday's opinion, written by Deputy Attorney General Elana Wills, said that while the board has the power to hire and fire superintendents of the two institutions, "one person may not lawfully serve or perform the duties of both superintendent positions."

The opinion said, however, that actions of the interim superintendent are not void because that person is serving as a de facto officer.

Gov. Mike Huckabee, too, has questioned the trustees' actions.

Board chairman Houston Nutt Sr. sent the Legislature's Joint Performance Review Committee a letter last month about the issue. He said the board had several reasons for wanted Lunestad out, including her lack of certification as superintendent, deficiencies found in an Education Department monitoring report, and her failure to respond appropriately to board members' questions about the school.

Sen. Steve Faris, D-Malvern, had requested the attorney general's opinion.

Trustee Mark Riable told legislators earlier this month that he believed the trustees acted lawfully in voting to appoint Hill to oversee both schools.

Faris, Riable and Hill did not immediately return calls seeking comment Friday.

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