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Schools

Principal cleared of harassment charge

District: He did not try to help benched son.

By DEMORRIS A. LEE
Published June 21, 2007


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Countryside High School principal Gary Schlereth

CLEARWATER - Countryside High School principal Gary Schlereth has been cleared of allegations that he harassed baseball coaches after they benched his son.

"I cannot conclude that, in fact, the principal abused his authority to influence playing time for his son," wrote Pinellas County schools athletic director Nick Grasso, who conducted the investigation.

Schlereth, 50, declined to comment this week.

In April, the school district's Office of Professional Standards launched an investigation after former Countryside assistant Tracy Paulton filed a complaint against Schlereth.

Paulton's complaint contended that Schlereth pressured the coaching staff to get better playing time for his son Nick, a senior.

In the complaint, Paulton said the trouble began early last season after Nick Schlereth compiled a .077 batting average, striking out seven times in 15 at-bats, and was benched. After that, he said, Gary Schlereth "abused his power" and began harassing coaches.

That did not happen, Schlereth told the Times in April.

"I have not confronted any coach out here about my kid's playing time," he said.

Paulton made his complaint the month after then-head coach Darnell Coles resigned because of time issues and problems with "out-of-control parents."

Paulton said Wednesday he was fine with the investigation's outcome. He said is pleased that the matter was investigated and that coaches now know that they have a place to go when they have concerns.

"The investigation brought light to a dark room," Paulton said. "There was too much being said behind closed doors that needed some light. Hopefully out of this, coaches will now know that they have an avenue and that someone is going to listen."

During the inquiry, Grasso concluded that Schlereth thought "he had a very solid relationship" with Coles.

Moreover, none of the coaches could cite a time that Schlereth threatened them or their jobs because of his son's playing time.

Schlereth "felt he could approach them about his son, as he was led to believe he could, for his son's improvement with his skill level," Grasso said in his report.

But to overcome the perceptions that have arisen, address concerns and improve public relations at the school, Grasso recommended that:

- School personnel and volunteers be mindful of issues related to favoritism.

- Administrators review the expectations for the coaching staff.

- The school hire a "committed" baseball coach and that the administration interview all assistant coaches.

- Administrators investigate all allegations and apply consistent discipline based on Student Code of Conduct. They also should train staff on what to do if problems with administrators arise.

"These could be shared across the board to raise the level of awareness of all our administrators and coaches, " Grasso said. "We want to be helpful to kids and employees so there is equity in the way people are treated, especially when these unique situations arise."

In the inquiry, Grasso interviewed Coles, Paulton and former assistant coaches Jeff Ciszkowski, Dan Witowski and D.J. Coles along with Schlereth. Three years of statistical data involving Schlereth son's playing time was reviewed as well.

"When you have a principal with a son in a sport, you have to differentiate from being the boss and the parent," Grasso said. "As a parent, you should have the right to question a coach about your son's ability and talent. Because you are that person's boss, it becomes a unique situation."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or dalee@sptimes.com.

 

NEW COACH

Kevin O'Sullivan, a former assistant baseball coach at Dunedin High School, has been named Countryside's new coach. O'Sullivan, 37 and a teacher in Pinellas for nearly four years, also will teach math at the school.

 

[Last modified June 21, 2007, 07:21:05]


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