Grievance Filed On Behalf Of Old Forge School Board Member May Cost $3.4M If Settled

February 21, 2019

Property owners in the Old Forge School District may see $3.4 million of their tax dollars paid to a fired teacher and former principal. During a vote on the school district’s preliminary budget Wednesday, President Frank Scavo claimed that fellow director Christopher Thomas, who was fired in 2017, is seeking the payout for a breach of his July 2017 settlement. Thomas said he was unaware of any dollar amount associated with the grievance and did not know how Scavo arrived at the $3.4 million figure. District business manager and Right to Know law officer Brian Rinaldi told The Times-Tribune to file a Right to Know law request for the grievance, adding that it likely would be denied. In November, the Old Forge School Board voted to deny the initial grievance filed by Thomas. The district teachers union filed a second, similar grievance on Thomas’ behalf, claiming that a confidentiality agreement in Thomas’ $130,000 secret settlement agreement was violated, Scavo said. In the agreement, Thomas was allowed to resign despite being fired at a board meeting in March 2017. The newspaper used the state’s Right to Know law to force the disclosure of the settlement in February 2018. The newspaper also reported on April 22, 2017, months before the settlement agreement, that Thomas was fired. Scavo, who motioned to fire Thomas during the 2017 board meeting, repeatedly verified that Thomas was fired. His termination is also in the district’s school board meeting minutes from March 2017. The reason Thomas was terminated is not included in the settlement. In July, the newspaper reported that Thomas, also a former principal, was fired for using a district-issued iPad to download pornography and visit sex-solicitation websites. When asked to return the iPad, Thomas claimed it was missing. Thomas is able to file the grievance through the union despite no longer being a teacher because members are protected under the association for a limited amount of time, said Jessica Sabol, Northeastern Region spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association. “Arbitrations do take time and Mr. Thomas is within the window of time to be able to file such grievance,” she said. Matthew Cravitz, attorney for the education association, refused to address the cost associated with the grievance, which is now in arbitration. Scavo said he is waiting for an answer from Rinaldi and solicitor Joseph Mariotti on whether the district would have to foot the entire bill for a settlement, or insurance would pick up the cost. Scavo added that he is unsure when the board will vote on Thomas’ grievance filed by the teachers union. On Wednesday, Scavo voted against the district’s $13.6 million preliminary budget because it does not include money for a possible settlement. Other directors argued that it is not common for the district to budget for settlements. “Every lawsuit concerns us,” said director Alisha Hudak. “None of it is budgeted.” Contact the writer: kbolus@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9100 x5114; @kbolusTT on Twitter