Superintendent candidate’s name tied to lawsuit by New Mexico AG

In this screenshot from a YouTube video, George Bickert is pictured speaking during a virtual meeting on Jan. 4.

By STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

The name of a candidate for the Griffin Spalding County Schools Superintendent’s position has surfaced in connection to a lawsuit filed by the New Mexico attorney general in the state district court in Albuquerque.

The lawsuit filed last Tuesday, according to an Associated Press report, accuses a company called Total Teaching Solutions and its CEO Janice Bickert of recruiting immigrant teachers from the Philippines to work at public schools and charging exorbitant fees and using deceptive financial tactics.

Bickert’s husband, Dr. George Bickert, is one of three remaining finalists for the GSCS Superintendent’s job.

According to the Associated Press report, “The lawsuit also says the recruitment company may have relied on Janice Bickert’s husband, George Bickert, in his position as the superintendent of Ruidoso’s public school district to ‘create legitimacy’ for the company.”

Dr. George Bickert had been the Superintendent of the Ruidoso Municipal School District in New Mexico since April of 2013.

GSCS Board Chairman Will Doss said on Saturday evening, “When she (Janice Bickert) was notified, he (Dr. George Bickert) called GSBA immediately.”

The Georgia School Board Association (GSBA) helps school systems across the state facilitate and streamline the search process for superintendents.

After a virtual town hall-style meeting that was broadcast over YouTube from Griffin on Monday during which the three candidates for superintendent — including Bickert as well as Keith Simmons and Dr. Kathleen Truitt — answered questions, Doss said the board would like to ideally announce its new candidate at its next board meeting this upcoming Tuesday.

The board, which after Monday’s town hall was scheduled to meet Saturday morning to discuss the superintendent’s position, met. Doss said that an announcement on Tuesday was unlikely as they would likely push the decision back during this developing situation.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a statement that the lawsuit is necessary amid a teacher shortage to stop predatory business practices against immigrants.

The suit says the company subjected immigrant teachers to fees of $15,000 for placement services on average, when other companies provided identical services for about $4,000.

“Once in the United States, teachers are forced to pay previously undisclosed additional fees, placement fees, or sign additional refinancing contracts,” the lawsuit states. “Teachers who are unable to pay the required installment of around $400 per month are subject to late fees.”

The company filed lawsuits in 2019 against eight teachers, alleging breach of contract, in cases set for trials before juries.

The lawsuit also alleges that Filipino job applicants signed financing agreements without knowledge of their future salaries.