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Old Forge School Board Denies Chris Thomas Grievance

November 24, 2018

Old Forge School Board Denies Chris Thomas Grievance

The Old Forge School Board voted to deny a union grievance filed on behalf of Director Chris Thomas related to his removal as a teacher for using a district iPad to download pornography and visit escort websites.

The denial means the Old Forge teachers union could seek binding arbitration to resolve the grievance, which centers on whether the district violated confidentiality clauses in a settlement with Thomas that ended his district teaching days.

The union seeks an unspecified amount of damages, not Thomas’ reinstatement.

Thomas, 46, left the board meeting room Wednesday evening while the other eight members voted 5-3 to deny the grievance.

Board President Joan Wilk and fellow Directors Patrick Aulisio, Julie Grimes, Megan McCabe and Frank Scavo voted to deny the grievance, Scavo and district Superintendent John Rushefski said. Directors Alisha Hudak, Jenna Shotwell and Marie Ciuferri voted to uphold the grievance, they said. Grievances allege a violation of a contract or other document or policy.

Upholding the grievance would have led to settlement talks. In arbitration, a neutral lawyer imposes a settlement after hearing testimony from the district and union. Efforts to reach union lawyer Matthew Cravitz to determine if the union will pursue arbitration were unsuccessful.

The school board fired Thomas on March 22, 2017, for reasons undisclosed at the time. About four months later, the district agreed to rescind the firing and allow Thomas to resign for a payment of $130,000 and a year of health insurance.

The behavior that led to his removal remained a secret until July when The Times-Tribune reported that documents it obtained showed Thomas downloaded pornography and visited escort websites with his district iPad. The settlement requires all documents in his personnel file to remain a secret unless he allows their release, and forbids the district from telling any of Thomas’ future prospective employers what’s in the file.

Scavo said he voted to deny the grievance because the district’s actions are all a matter of public record.

“It’s a frivolous action to extract money from the district,” Scavo said. “There’s nothing that has been violated.”

Grimes and Wilk said the district has done nothing wrong.

“He just keeps on going, and someone is leaking confidential information and he keeps filing these grievances,” Wilk said. “He’s working up to a lawsuit against the district.”

Aulisio said he routinely votes to deny grievances because settling usually costs the district money. He declined to comment specifically on the Thomas grievance.

“I’m a tightwad,” he said.

Ciuferri and Hudak declined to comment.

Efforts to reach Thomas, McCabe and Shotwell for comment were unsuccessful.

In other business, the district tabled action on a motion to hire attorney Chris Lantz, a partner in the Wellsboro law firm Cox, Stokes & Lance, as a independent investigator.

Rushefski said Lantz would have looked into “harassment” of a district employee. He and Scavo declined to elaborate.

Scavo said the board tabled the motion to examine the costs further. Lantz proposed a rate of $185 an hour plus mileage.

Contact the writer:

bkrawczeniuk@timesshamrock.com;

570-348-9147;

@BorysBlogTT on Twitter

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