Principal not off hook after coaches complain
They called an investigation into interference by Schlereth a "whitewash." It is reopened.
By DEMORRIS A. LEE
Published July 3, 2007
Schlereth was cleared last month.
Several coaches talked to Jane Gallucci of the board.
CLEARWATER - An investigation into allegations that Countryside High School principal Gary Schlereth harassed baseball coaches after they benched his son has been reopened after coaches complained about the first inquiry.
Jim Lott of the school district's Office of Professional Standards said Monday the inquiry "was directed to be reopened." Lott said the directive came last week and referred questions to deputy superintendent Julie Janssen, who did not return phone calls Monday.
After the St. Petersburg Times reported last month that Schlereth was cleared of any wrongdoing, several former Countryside baseball coaches took their concerns to School Board member Jane Gallucci, who met with them last week.
"I went to superintendent Clayton Wilcox and presented some of the things they discussed with me, and Dr. Wilcox made the decision, " Gallucci said Monday.
Gallucci said she gave Wilcox the notes she had taken and "he took that information and spent a couple of hours going through it and notified me to notify" the Office of Professional Standards.
Gallucci said that Rick Stelljes, an Office of Professional Standards investigator, will look at the "whole picture."
In April, the office began an investigation after former Countryside assistant baseball coach Tracy Paulton filed a complaint contending that Schlereth pressured the coaching staff to get better playing time for his son Nick, a senior. Schlereth has previously said that did not happen. He could not be reached for this article.
In May, Pinellas County schools athletic director Nick Grasso wrote after his investigation that he could not "conclude that, in fact, the principal abused his authority to influence playing time for his son."
But several of the coaches interviewed during the investigation took issue with how the investigation was conducted and called it a "whitewash." Dan Witowski, Jeff Ciszkowski and D.J. Coles met with Gallucci last week.
"We want a truthful, unbiased investigation as to the principal's behavior, " said Witowski, a former coach. "Is it unethical and a violation to do what he did? ... He's saying that we are all liars and the facts don't support that."
In the testimony given in the first investigation, former coaches indicated that they felt pressure to play Nick Schlereth, even though he had a dismal batting average.
"When you read (Gary) Schlereth's statement and you have five other people giving the 180-degree opposite, how can you come to the conclusion that he's telling the truth and we are not?" Witowski said.
There also were concerns about how Countryside handled an April 16 altercation between a player and D.J. Coles. Coles said that the player's father verbally assaulted him and encouraged his son to physically assault him. Coles and other witnesses at the scene said the player pushed him.
The player was arrested by the Clearwater police and faces a battery charge. The father was cited for trespassing after refusing to leave the school's property, Schlereth wrote in a statement to Janssen.
Coles said the player was not suspended. Schlereth said the player was removed from the team.
"D.J. was attacked by a student at a baseball game on the field, " Witowski said. "This child was arrested, locked up overnight and was allowed to come to school for the remainder of the time. The policy is, you attack anybody, you are suspended."
At the conclusion of Grasso's initial investigation, he recommended strategies to address the perceptions of favoritism and to improve public relations of the school.
He recommended that a committed baseball coach be hired and that the administration interview all assistant coaches. In addition, he recommended that administrators investigate all allegations and apply consistent discipline based on Student Code of Conduct.
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or email@example.com
[Last modified July 3, 2007, 08:02:17]
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