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Posted: August 14, 2012 1:53 p.m.

Summer unemployment for school workers?

ATLANTA (AP) - A federal agency's decision might lead to thousands of Georgia bus drivers, cafeteria workers and private school teachers getting summer unemployment benefits after the state denied them the money.

The payments could amount to millions of dollars, officials said.

State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler had instituted a benefits change earlier this year, saying it was unfair to pay the seasonal benefits when public school system employees don't get them.

But U.S. Department of Labor officials determined that Georgia violated workplace laws by refusing to pay the benefits.

Federal officials have ordered Butler to rescind the ruling and pay the teachers and contract workers, according to a letter obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (http://bit.ly/RO5vPH ).

In the Aug. 2 letter, the U.S. Labor Department wrote that Butler's recent "reinterpretation" of unemployment compensation is without "adequate statutory basis."

However, Butler said employees were not being treated the same under the old rules.

"We were treating people employed directly by a public school system, or a university, differently than somebody who was contracted by a school system," Butler told The Journal-Constitution Monday. "In cases where you have a great probability of returning to contracted work, then you're not eligible for unemployment."

State labor officials have sought legal guidance on the matter from Georgia's attorney general.

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