News

Woodside Elementary School District spends $584,000 to dismiss teacher

Public Records Act request shows how much the district spent dismissing teacher

In November 2015, when an administrative panel dismissed all the charges against a teacher the Woodside Elementary School District had tried to fire, not only did the teacher remain on the district's payroll, but district officials were left on the hook for all the costs of holding the administrative hearing and both the district's and teacher's legal costs.

What happened next, and the $584,000 it cost taxpayers, has just been revealed by the district after the Almanac made a California Public Records Act request for the information.

The Almanac has been asking for the information for more than a year, but requested the information again at least four times between March 1 and March 7, in the hopes of providing it to the public before a vote on a parcel tax on April 4. The Almanac made a formal Public Records Act request on March 9, but the information was not provided until April 18, two weeks after the election.

The parcel tax, which brings in about $300,000 a year to the district, was approved by 73 percent of those voting, well over the two-thirds required. The cost of firing the teacher was just short of two years of parcel tax revenues.

The teacher continued earning full pay and benefits while on administrative leave until June 30, 2016, apparently even getting a pay raise during that time. The district then made a $200,000 severance payment to the teacher.

The teacher, who is not being named by the Almanac because all the charges against him were dismissed, was in his sixth year of instructing fifth- to eighth-grade physical education at the school when he was notified the school district had begun the dismissal process. He was put on administrative leave and a replacement teacher hired in April 2015.

The dismissal, which had been approved by Superintendent Beth Polito and the school board, was appealed by the teacher. He said he was afraid that because of the charges the district had levied against him, he would never be able to teach again.

The administrative panel, made up of a member chosen by the district, a member chosen by the teacher and an administrative law judge, unanimously dismissed all the charges after a five-day public hearing in September 2015.

The school board had approved continuing with the action against the teacher after his appeal of his dismissal. The board also approved the severance payment.

The $584,127 in total costs are made up of:

•Pay for the 2015-16 school year: $101,759.

•Benefits for 2015-16 school year: $26,358.

•Pay for March-June 2015: $39,000.

•Benefits for March-June 2015: $6,957.

•Severance pay: $200,000.

•District's attorney: $92,236.

•Teacher's attorney: $90,000.

•Administrative hearing: $25,567.

•Expenses of panel members: $2,250.

After the Almanac learned how much money had been spent dismissing the teacher, Superintendent Polito and school board President Claire Pollioni were asked to answer the following questions: "Whether it was worth this much money to the district to dismiss a teacher? If it was worth it, why? Do you think, in hindsight, that things could have been done differently? If so, how?"

President Pollioni did not respond to the questions, but Superintendent Polito sent the following response.

"This is a joint board/district statement. No individual board members will be making a statement.

"The District does not intend to comment at length about this matter, given privacy concerns, but in light of the local interest in this topic, we feel the public should be aware that the district and Board have to make tough calls sometimes in matters of staffing and the system in state law for dismissing teachers is challenging for both school districts and staff. The District and Board have accepted the outcome of the process in this case and we're focused on the future and continuing to offer an excellent educational experience to all our students."

The charges brought by the school included immoral and unprofessional conduct and "persistent violation of or refusal to obey" school rules or state laws. The specific incidents cited in support of the charges included: failing to follow school procedures for dealing with doctors' notes, leaving students unsupervised for short periods, favoring athletic students over non-athletic students, using profanity in conversations with students, leaving his walkie-talkie radio on a table instead of keeping it with him, and carrying his cellphone during class.

The teacher admitted to some of the incidents, including leaving his students unsupervised at times and the walkie-talkie incident. He denied others.

He said he had never used profanity with students and did not show favoritism, and that he had never carried his cellphone after being told not to. He also argued that the misdeeds that had occurred had not endangered students.

The panel ruled that the charges were either not proven or did not rise to the level of a firing offense. The decision noted that nothing in the charges qualified as immorality, and it dismissed the charges of favoritism and profanity without discussion because the only testimony about them was hearsay parents quoting their children.

The decision also criticized the school for not having breaks between classes and forcing teachers to leave students alone while taking bathroom breaks, returning messages or reading their school email.

"The District's failure to provide a passing period for students places an unreasonable burden on teachers, especially the P.E. teachers," the decision says.

See the Almanac's original story, including a link to the hearing board's decision.

Note: The pay for the four-month period, March 2015-June 30, 2015, of $39,000 was calculated using the $98,000 annual pay amount provided by the district for this teacher for 2014-15, divided by 10 monthly pay periods, and multiplied by four. The benefits cost of $6,957 for the 4-month period was calculated using Transparent California website's benefit amount for this teacher in 2015 of $20,871. All other figures were provided by the school district. The district says the 2015 costs should not be included in the calculations because the teacher was on medical leave for part of that time. The district announced he was on leave on March 9 and that he would not be returning on April 22.

Comments

6 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 16, 2017 at 11:32 am

Sounds like the district used the Trump method of subverting important relevant information prior to an election.


26 people like this
Posted by Woodside School Parent
a resident of Woodside: other
on May 16, 2017 at 11:35 am

Where the school really failed here is in gathering enough witnesses to this teacher's behavior. My kids, as well as my kids' friends regularly saw the behavior detailed here, but also saw a lot more. I heard about it for years. I complained several times to the principal, whom I believe did what was within his bounds to do. In the school's effort to be discreet (to the benefit of this teacher), they missed an opportunity to strengthen their case. I and other parents would gladly have provided a statement or allowed our children to do so. I don't always approve of the way this school spends its money, but this teacher had to go at whatever cost.


23 people like this
Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on May 16, 2017 at 2:04 pm

pogo is a registered user.

"...and the system in state law for dismissing teachers is challenging for both school districts and staff. The District and Board have accepted the outcome of the process in this case."

Please remember this experience when you hear the teachers union saying the protections for firing bad teachers are reasonable. It is exactly this type of example - costing the district HALF A MILLION DOLLARS! - to get rid of a problematic teacher that chills these actions.

In the future, this district (and others) will consider this experience when they have another bad apple.


30 people like this
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 16, 2017 at 2:48 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

Wonderful work by the school district. Don't say anything until the school bond passes. Recall the school board and fire the superintendent.


13 people like this
Posted by Cartesian
a resident of Woodside School
on May 16, 2017 at 3:59 pm

Cartesian is a registered user.

With all due respect to Whatever, this has nothing to do with Donald Trump. Give me a break! In fact, our president is attempting to rectify this specific problem. Teachers need to be held as accountable as anyone with a job in the corporate world. It's ridiculous how hard it is to fire an inept teacher just because he or she happens to be tenured. Disgraceful what this incident has cost the tax payer. But why should those who benefit from other people's hard earned money care? They don't. And as long as we are willing to pay higher taxes to fund such utter nonsense, they will continue to find ways to spend more.


19 people like this
Posted by Huh
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Hills
on May 16, 2017 at 8:37 pm

Huh is a registered user.

People around here collectively need to grow a pair of cajones. Top down to the mom sitting at home with too much time on her hands to worry about little Jimmy getting the proper day care (PE class) routine while she is at the salon getting her hair done. We are talking about PE For gods sake. 1. Teacher was over his head with the climate there and it reflected obviously in ths job and the outcome. 2. This should not be dragged out into the public arena again, for the sake of the staff there and for the teacher. Shame on the Almanac for perpetuating something that should be in the rear view mirror. It was a balanced piece but jeez, why am I reading about this again today. 3. The town has plenty of money they get thru the tax revenue created by the ultra rich so to complain about $600k is horse caca and those tax revenues grant you the right to want more for Jimmy, I get that. 4. To those who are want to put this ordeal in the arena of the corporate world of "you don't do your job, you are fired" I would like for you on a personal level try to navigate the idea of having your career trajectory put on the front page of a newspaper. Not once but multiple times. Move on.


16 people like this
Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on May 16, 2017 at 9:21 pm

pogo is a registered user.

Huh -

You may want to read the article.

"The Almanac has been asking for the information for more than a year, but requested the information again at least four times between March 1 and March 7, in the hopes of providing it to the public before a vote on a parcel tax on April 4. The Almanac made a formal Public Records Act request on March 9, but the information was not provided until April 18, two weeks after the election."

The reason for the information is being published now IS BECAUSE THE SCHOOL DELAYED RELEASING THE INFORMATION UNTIL AFTER THE PARCEL TAX ELECTION.

Huh?


13 people like this
Posted by veteran Woodside parent
a resident of Woodside School
on May 16, 2017 at 9:53 pm

veteran Woodside parent is a registered user.

After the administrative panel found the teacher innocent of all charges, why would Superintendent Polito and the School Board decide to dump him anyway? What were they thinking?

Having lived in Woodside for several decades, we know this young teacher and he is a good guy: honest, moral, with a good sense of humor. Bad decisions were made at the top – time for new leadership.


8 people like this
Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on May 17, 2017 at 6:45 am

pogo is a registered user.

Huh?

I was responding directly to your question: "...but jeez, why am I reading about this again today"?

The reason is that the school district refused to answer for more than a year. The information was just released - that's a significant element of the story.

As for my business cred, you can assume that I didn't get to live here due to a lack of business success.


Like this comment
Posted by Danish
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Hills
on May 18, 2017 at 11:53 pm

Danish is a registered user.

[Post removed for using multiple names on the same thread.]


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