New York State Exposed Education: Teachers and tenure

Updated: 06/02/2014 11:21 PM
Created: 06/02/2014 6:40 AM WHEC.com
By: Pat Taney

A school teacher was looking at pornography on his school issued computer. Another teacher is accused of sexually harassing colleagues and a student. Both are local cases and it took two local school districts a lot of time and money to get those teachers off the payroll.

It involves a disciplinary hearing. It is similar to a court case where the teacher’s union and district battle it out for a verdict. Some cases can drag on for years, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

There are so many teachers who go to work each day wanting to help children grow and learn, but there are also a handful of teachers who shouldn’t be in the classroom. If those teachers are tenured, they are guaranteed protection if their job is ever on the line, even if they are guilty as charged.

Michael Nicot was doing porn on the computer while students were in the classroom. The incident happened in 2007. The Midlakes School District tried to fire him, but the tenured teacher fought back, using his union’s attorney. He started a 3020a hearing, which gives teachers an opportunity to fight for their job.

Sharon Sweeney, 4 County School Board Association, said, “The results of the hearing process were that he should be suspended and then come back to teach.”

The district then fought back. They began a lengthy legal process, one that has been incredibly costly to taxpayers.

Mike Ford, Midlakes Superintendent, said, “It cost the taxpayers about $200,000 to go through this process.”

Three years and several hearings later, Nicot was finally taken off the payroll. 

Since then, state lawmakers have passed legislation to bring a quicker end to the 3020a hearings.

Edwin J. Lopez-Soto\Rochester City School District, said, “A hearing officer must finish a hearing within 125 days of the filing of charges.”

In Rochester, the past five cases the district has pursued, that timeline was met. It gets bad teachers off the payroll. The teachers can and often do appeal. It is another taxing process on a district’s budget to defend the termination. 

So who is to blame? Many school leaders say bad teachers who receive tenure get extra protection, backed by their powerful unions.

Adam Urbanski, Rochester Teachers’ Association, said, “We make sure there is fairness and due process and we guarantee a day in court.”

News10NBC asked Adam Urbanski why the process takes so long, even for teachers caught breaking policy red-handed. His union defends teachers through the 3020a hearings and appeals process, no matter the charge.

The union even defended Rochester City School District physical education teacher, Valerie Yarn, who the district tried to fire after leaders say she sexually harassed colleagues and a student. She's no longer being paid by the district, but still is appealing her firing in the court system and it's been dragging on for years.

Urbanski said, “You're entitled to your day in court. Unfortunately, that takes time. Sometimes, there is a temptation to be frustrated with whoever represents the teacher.”

Urbanski says he understands that frustration, but defends his union's rights, no matter the time or cost.

Urbanski said, “This takes time and it is not rushed because we don't want to compromise the rights of people.”

School administrators argue one big way to change the system is to re-visit when and how teachers receive tenure in New York State. Again, tenure gives teachers protections to keep their jobs.

Click here to reach out to the New York State Department of Education

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