RICHMOND -- -- A proposed shakeup at the state Education Department is legal and may continue, a Richmond Circuit Court judge has ruled.
Seven Education Department workers had filed suit, claiming a plan by Gov. L. Douglas Wilder's administration to reorganize the department and fire some employees was unconstitutional.
Although he said he felt sympathy for the workers whose jobs are in jeopardy, "there's nothing I can do about it," Judge Randall G. Johnson said Friday.
"Nowhere does the General Assembly attempt to tell the governor how to set up the Department of Education," Johnson said. "All we have here is an attempt to change its internal makeup."
The judge said Joseph Spagnolo Jr., the state superintendent of public instruction, is conducting an internal reorganization of an executive agency, which he can do under state law.
The reorganization is expected to be complete Friday. Employees who hold 200 targeted jobs have had to reapply for similar jobs under the new structure.
"There's been a lot of anxiety. A lot of people are really worried," said Benjamin Baines, a department employee for 14 years and one of the seven who filed suit. Baines said he has applications pending for three of the new jobs.
"It's been inhuman," said Vivian Sullivan, another of the seven. "This is a real disappointment."
The department employees filed the complaint earlier this month. They argued that under state law, the reorganization should have been submitted to the General Assembly.
They also contended that the reorganization illegally circumvented state personnel policies.
Under the reorganization, "on February 1, the music will stop and anyone without a chair will be laid off," said Christopher M. Malone, the employees' attorney.
Senior workers who lose their jobs in the reorganization should be given priority in filling new jobs or existing jobs for which they qualify, Malone contended.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Paul J. Forch argued that department heads can reorganize internally without going to the General Assembly for approval.
Spagnolo said Friday that the reorganized department will save money and be less bureaucratic. He has said the department will focus on research and service.
Approximately 100 jobs will be eliminated from the 534 now in the department.
So far, 180 positions have been filled. About 165 of those will be held by the workers in them now, Spagnolo said.
Employees who believe they have not been treated fairly in the reorganization can turn to the state grievance procedure, Forch said.