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Ex-State Employees Claim Improper Firing

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 21 Feb 2011 12:48pm | comments
Perceta Tuggles (left) and DHS Executive Director Don Thompson (right)

A group of former state workers is claiming that they were improperly fired following last year's budget cuts. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports that the employees worked at a state run reform school for troubled youths.

The Oakley Training school in Raymond, lost about half its funding last year and fired more than 140 employees to make the cut.

A group of those employees, including the school's former principal Perceta Tuggles, went before the House Juvenile Justice Committee on Monday claiming that they were improperly fired.

"To have our entirely livelihood just cut away. That was devastating. I will confess it took me several months just to get over being angry. I am good now. But I was angry, because I was done wrong," Tuggles said.

Tuggles says the firings didn't follow state guidelines and might have been personally, or racially, motivated. She wants the committee to investigate.

The school is run by the Department of Human Services. DHS executive director Don Thompson says the layoffs were fair and carefully tailored to included factors such as longevity and past performance evaluations.

"Based upon the report that I got from my higher employees that participated in this and based upon the discussion with the State Personnel Board when they approved this. I am going to have to say yeah (it was fair)," Thompson said, "I have to agree with the policy and the evaluation."

Thompson says there are now about 220 employees serving the remaining 50 children.

Oakley has a history of problems. In 2005, the school entered into an agreement with the federal government to improve the treatment of the students after stories of abuse surfaced.

Committee Chairman Earl Banks of Jackson says he takes the ex-employee's claims seriously because there is a need for the school in Mississippi.

"Does it still have some problems? Yes. Does it still have needs? Yes. But those needs are being addressed and there is growth and progress at Oakley. And Oakley is not what it was ten years ago. Oakley is not what it was five years ago," Banks said.

Last year, Governor Haley Barbour recommended closing the school entirely, but the legislature decided to keep it open with a reduced budget.

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Perceta Tuggles (left) and DHS Executive Director Don Thompson (right)


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