JANESVILLE, Wis. – Maria Caya was a fourth-grade elementary teacher who was allegedly drunk during a student field trip last spring.
She passed out and was taken to a hospital during the field trip to a bowling alley, and police say she registered a .27 blood alcohol level, according to a report from the Daily Herald.
Ordinarily employees in any industry who get drunk on the job are fired on the spot. That’s certainly the way it should be, particularly when they work with children.
But Caya was allowed to resign under a negotiated agreement that provided her with an $18,452 buyout and continued health and dental insurance coverage through Aug. 31, the news report said.
The taxpayers of Janesville have a right to be outraged.
The money represents the amount that Caya had earned as compensation for unused sick days over 14 years with the district, according to the news report. But the unused sick day compensation policy was a provision of a union contract that has since expired.
Under Act 10, Wisconsin’s new collective bargaining reform law, expired teachers union contracts are no longer valid in any way. School boards are now free to establish terms of employment in employee handbooks without union consent.
If the Janesville school board adopted the expensive and counter-productive unused sick day policy in the new employee handbook, its logic should be questioned.
School board President Greg Ardrey defended the payout, arguing that if Caya had been fired, she could have challenged the decision in court and legal costs for the district would have exceeded the buyout amount.
He also noted that she might have won in court and been reinstated, which could potentially put more children in danger.
Something is definitely wrong with the law when a school can’t fire a teacher for being drunk on the job without fear of legal costs or being forced to reinstate the teacher.
Perhaps this should be a lesson for all Wisconsin school boards. They should amend their employee handbooks with a provision that states that intoxication on the job will result in immediate termination with no further benefit payments, period.
There may be no way to guarantee such a provision would hold up in court – lawyers are pretty tricky these days – but it would certainly help.
Schools should not have to negotiate with an employee who can’t stay away from the bottle until the end of the school day. Caro jeopardized the safety of her young students, and she shouldn’t be rewarded one penny for that.
By Steve Gunn at EAGnews.org