MIDDLETON, Wis. – Officials at the Middleton Cross Plains school district are stuck in an expensive time warp.

legalbillsIn 2010 they fired teacher Andrew Harris for viewing pornographic material on school computers.

Of course Harris appealed through his union, and an arbitrator and several appellate courts ruled that he should be reinstated, because several other staff members were accused of the same type of offense but received suspensions rather than termination.

The school board claimed Green deserved a more severe punishment because of the nature of the material he was viewing. The board pressed on with the case, and recently asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to hear its appeal.

But the Supreme Court recently declined to intervene, meaning the school district will be forced to reinstate Harris to a teaching position and pay legal costs that at last count totaled around $932,000, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

That’s right. School board members were forced to cough up nearly $1 million in tax revenue  – and probably more when it’s all added up – to try to rid themselves of a teacher they don’t believe should be around children. To top it all off, they were defeated, meaning the money is gone and the teacher is coming back anyway.

That’s how difficult it is for public schools to effectively manage their staffs in most states, where union rules and pro-labor state polices are dominant.

Ironically, the system is now much different and much better in Wisconsin. That’s due to Act 10, a 2011 state law that severely limited the power of teachers union and created a system where all public school teachers are essentially at-will employees working under one-year contracts.

Wisconsin schools are now free to rid themselves of problem teachers at pretty much any time, without all the grief and expense that the old system required.

Unfortunately for Middleton Cross Plains officials, the new law came one year too late. If Harris had been fired in the second half of 2011 or later, it would have been a done deal, without all the expense and headaches.

If nothing else, the Harris case is a chilly reminder of an old system that used to handcuff schools to ineffective, in appropriate and sometimes dangerous teachers. Lawmakers in every state should follow Wisconsin’s lead.

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