By Victor Skinner
ROCHESTER, N.Y. – The Rochester City School District has a disturbing employment practice.
School employees caught doing wildly inappropriate things at work are being returned to their positions with “last chance agreements,” or are at least allowed to resign with a positive referral for a new job, according to a Democrat and Chronicle investigation.
The newspaper reviewed dozens of cases since 2005 in which Rochester school employees were accused of stealing, coming to work intoxicated, inappropriate contact with students and other serious infractions, but did not face termination proceedings.
“The vast majority of the employees were allowed to keep their jobs, typically making off with a warning or referral for counseling. In settlements called ‘last chance agreements,’ the employees also agree to termination if the misconduct occurs again,” the newspaper reports.
“Thirty-nine of the employees in the 51 cases the district provided were allowed to continue working.”
Those employees include a bus driver who came to work drunk, a teacher who shook her butt at students while singing a sexually suggestive pop song, and another teacher who grabbed a student by the neck, according to the Democrat and Chronicle.
And those are the cases the district didn’t try to hide.
“In some instances, the nature of the infraction is difficult to decipher because of the deliberately vague nature of the documents,” the newspaper reports. “And in some cases, often when a worker was referred to an employee assistance program, the district redacted information about the charges.”
Rochester schools are not in a unique in this regard. Across the nation, school administrators are forced to keep wayward teachers on the payroll or in the classroom because of union protections and state laws that make it extremely difficult and expensive to fire them.
A 2008 study conducted by the New York State School Boards Association showed the average cost for school districts that go through a 3020a hearing – the state’s termination process for teachers – was about $216,000. Those cases drag on for an average of 502 days, the newspaper reports.
Despite the massive amount of time and money invested, only about half the teachers charged were eventually terminated, while the other half are deemed worthy to return to the classroom.
An arbitrator allowed Rochester art teacher Mark Phillips to keep his job after he allegedly reached down the pants of a 20-year-old University of Rochester student at the Family Learning Center, although the district is continuing to fight for termination, the newspaper reports.
An arbitrator also ruled the district cannot fire Valarie Yarn, a physical education teacher who sent sexually suggestive letters to her supervisors, and forced girls in her gym classes to remove their shirts for “physical evaluations,” according to media reports.
Union officials in Rochester didn’t want to discuss the cases or termination process with the newspaper, but New York State Union of Teachers spokesman Carl Korn told the newspaper in a previous interview that “the reality is the vast majority of teacher discipline cases are resolved swiftly, and most of them are resolved through settlements.
“We’re happy because we don’t have a teacher fired, the district is happy because they exercise some sort of discipline and the public is happy because it didn’t cost tax dollars. It’s a win, win, win.”
But, as always, union officials left one important element out of the equation: students.
Settlement agreements keep the public in the dark and allow abusive school employees to repeat their dubious behavior, often at the expense of students, either at the same school or in another district.
That’s a lose-lose for students, and it’s about time lawmakers and the public demand a more efficient and reliable system for getting these types of rotten apples out the door for good.