13 teachers put on leave, suspended draw $239,292

April 17, 1994|By Carol L. Bowers and Andrea F. Siegel | Carol L. Bowers and Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writers

Since last May, the Anne Arundel County school system has paid 13 teachers who were suspended or put on administrative leave $239,292 to do no work.

The school system also paid $104,895 to the substitutes.

The teachers can take other jobs, pursue advanced degrees or stay home. One teacher has been out of the classroom 330 days. The 12 others missed between six and 163 days.

"People who are out for several weeks or months, you should be able to use those people in other capacities," said Joseph Foster, vice president of the county school board. "You're paying them; you should be getting something in return."

There have been more than 100 investigations into alleged teacher misconduct this school year, but the 13 cases are the RTC only ones unresolved.

Superintendent Carol S. Parham also voiced concern over the situation, which has cost the school system more than $344,000.

"I've considered putting people to work, but with all that's gone on, our emphasis has been on cleaning up the [disciplinary] process," Dr. Parham said. She also said she wants to have a plan in place by fall for reassigning teachers who have been suspended or placed on leave.

Suspension is punitive while administrative leave is not.

Three cases illustrate the problem:

Laurie S. Cook, a Northeast High School teacher acquitted of a charge sexually abusing a student, worked on her legal defense and pursued a master's degree after she was suspended. Since her acquittal Dec. 10, she remains suspended with pay while the school system completes its own investigation into the sexual abuse allegation.

Another Northeast teacher, Charles A. Yocum, acquitted March 25 of a charge of child sexual abuse, spent the time before his trial helping to prepare his defense and working for a landscaper.

"Mr. Yocum would much prefer to have had one salary as a school teacher rather than two salaries as a suspended schoolteacher," said Terrence M. Nolan, his lawyer.

Mr. Yocum, too, remains suspended with pay pending an investigation into possible misconduct.

He still works for the landscaper and is helping to write a book about his case.

The school system does not publicly identify teachers suspected of misconduct, but the identity of any adult charged with a crime is public record.

Then there is "Teacher No. 8," who was suspended with pay Aug. 24, 1992, for alleged "willful neglect of duty." This teacher has collected $78,117 since leaving the classroom.

After the teacher appealed the superintendent's decision, the school board ordered a hearing officer to consider the case. The hearing officer, whose name was not immediately available, received the case April 28, 1993.

"We still have not gotten a response from the hearing officer in that case, though we've made several attempts," said Ronald L. Beckett, associate superintendent for administration and support services.

"Other than that, we're trying to move the cases through quickly."

The system pays teachers such as "Teacher No. 8" for not working because of a clause in the union contract. Pay must be reinstated for teachers who appeal the superintendent's decision placing them on leave or suspending, disciplining or firing them.

"It's not our fault" if teachers are not reassigned pending a resolution of their cases, said Thomas J. Paolino, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County.

"There's nothing in the contract to prohibit [teachers on leave or suspension] from being moved to the central office and working there," said Mr. Paolino, whose union represents 4,000 teachers.

The idea behind paying suspended teachers was to speed up appeals, he said.

"But it seems there's a lack of follow-through on the part of the board, administration and staff," Mr. Paolino said. "It was not our intent for people to be out for two years."

Due process, however, has proved time-consuming. It begins with the investigation of a teacher accused of wrongdoing, which can take months and may be delayed if the police are involved. That's because police work takes precedence. During this time, the teacher usually is pulled from the classroom, then appeals to get his or her pay reinstated.

Once all investigations are done -- and the case is not delayed by an arrest or trial -- the superintendent recommends a disciplinary action and notifies the teacher. The employee has 10 days to file an appeal with the school board and again is reinstated to the status of suspension with pay.

Appeals to the county school board can be heard by a quorum of five board members or by a hearing officer who submits findings to the school board for a decision.

Hearing officers -- there are about five -- are generally lawyers experienced with the administrative hearing process, said P. Tyson Bennett, the school board's attorney and a former hearing officer.

And that also may be part of the problem.

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