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District makes deal with former teacher

Former Springstead High drama teacher Paul Martin will get about $10,500 in back pay, but he won't get his job back.

By ROBERT KING

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 26, 2000


The school district will pay former Springstead High drama teacher Paul Martin about $10,500 in back pay under a deal that enables both sides to avoid a costly hearing that could have led to his firing.

Martin, 51, was suspended in February -- just days before the debut of a student production of A Midsummer Night's Dream -- after the school accused him of violating several policies by, among other things, leaving students unsupervised while they used power tools to build stage sets.

Soon after the suspension, the school district set in motion the process to fire Martin, who was in his second year as a full-time teacher.

That process was expected to end in a hearing before an administrative law judge, who would decide whether the school district had grounds to fire Martin. But in a joint motion filed Oct. 2, both sides requested that the matter be dropped.

Edd Poore, the school district's personnel director, said he had hoped the matter would be taken care of within two months of Martin's initial suspension. But it dragged on past the end of the school year. In effect, Springstead was able to end Martin's tenure by choosing not to renew his teaching contract for the 2000-01 school year.

With that done, Poore said it made no sense for district officials to spend $25,000 to $30,000 in legal bills to go through with a hearing to fire a teacher who no longer works for them. In essence, paying him roughly $10,500 in back pay for the time he was suspended was a bargain.

Martin declined to comment and would not discuss his plans. His lawyer, Mark Herdman, said earlier this week that Martin's case was now settled and that the drama teacher would not be returning to Springstead.

Earlier this year, the school hired a replacement for Martin -- Chris Fickley. And under his direction, the students' production of Our Town will open Nov. 9.

In building its case to fire Martin, the school district alleged that he had committed a number of transgressions -- including swearing in front of students, ignoring procedures for planning field trips, failing to give semester exams on mandatory dates and twice leaving students unsupervised, once while they used power tools.

Martin has not publicly commented in his defense. But some of his students -- and former Springstead drama teacher Dennis Caltagirone -- have defended Martin. Some said he may have been guilty of having a short fuse and that he had even allowed experienced student workers to use equipment alone. But they said Martin was undermined by an administration that was out to get him and a chorus teacher who wanted more control of Springstead's theater.

Principal Dot Dodge and chorus teacher Mark Pennington denied such accusations. And Dodge said Springstead's drama program is moving in a positive direction under Fickley.

"We have a very vivacious program," she said.

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