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Commissioner Jurisdiction



Case citation:  Dembo v. Houston ISD, Dkt. No. 025-R2-11-2013 (Comm’r Educ.   December 30, 2013).

Summary: Robert Dembo, III worked for the Houston Independent School District as a JROCT instructor until August of 2003.  Dembo filed an appeal with the Commissioner of Education appealing the district’s decision to end his employment. Dembo claimed that the school district improperly non-renewed him and violated his term contract.  The district contended, however, that Dembo was an at-will employee of the school district and that he did not have a term contract.  According to the district, because Dembo did not have an employment contract, his termination did not breach a contract.   Thus, the Commissioner did not have jurisdiction over the appeal.

Ruling:  The Commissioner held that jurisdiction did not exist over the appeal.  Dembo claimed that jurisdiction existed under Texas Education Code § 21.301.  The Commissioner observed, however, for jurisdiction to exist under § 21.301, a school board or school subcommittee must have announced a decision under Texas Education Code § 21.259 or advised a teacher of its decision to non-renew a contract under Texas Education Code § 21.208.  Neither of those occurred in this case.  There was no hearing before an independent hearing examiner, a school board, or board subcommittee and there was no local record.  The school district did not initiate non- renewal procedures because it contended that Dembo was an at-will employee.  According to the Commissioner, Dembo could have contested the district’s actions by filing a grievance, but he did not do so.   If he had filed a grievance, the Commissioner may have had jurisdiction under Education Code § 7.057 for alleged violations of the school laws of Texas or the violation of an employment contract that caused or would cause monetary harm.  Nonetheless, he did not assert that basis of the Commissioner’s jurisdiction.  The Commissioner, therefore, did not have jurisdiction over Dembo’s appeal.

Comments:  Interesting footnote in this decision: “An ROTC teacher does not meet the definition of ‘classroom teacher’ found at 19 T.A.C. 230.1(4).”