The Public Eye: Twin Rivers school employees placed on leave are paid to wait

Published: Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012 - 3:03 pm

They were peppered throughout the audience at recent Twin Rivers Unified School District board meetings – a handful of employees with the unwanted distinction of having been placed on paid administrative leave.

Twin Rivers has placed at least 38 employees on paid administrative leave since 2008, for reasons relating to discipline or an investigation, according to the data released by the district. Of that group, 16 returned to work. Others were laid off, retired, dismissed or have no resolution.

The north area school district has about 2,600 employees.

Over the past two years, the average length of paid leaves has risen from 100 business days to 120 business days, according to a review of data obtained by The Bee.

The district has spent $1.2 million for the salaries of the 38 employees. The total cost of such leaves to the taxpayers isn't available since the school district would not provide any information on district police officers placed on paid administrative leave, other than its police chief.

The paid leave data provided by the district for all other employees – including a principal, school secretary, maintenance workers and teachers – did not include the names of employees, even though Twin Rivers acknowledged it had no legal reason for excluding the information. The school district would not provide the same data for its Police Department, with or without the names of officers.

Assistant Superintendent Tom Janis said the police information would not be released because of officer personnel privacy laws and to protect an ongoing personnel and criminal investigation into the police force. That investigation is being headed by the Sacramento Police Department.

Twin Rivers Police Chief Christopher Breck has been on paid leave since November, when allegations of wrongdoing first publicly surfaced, including allegations of excessive car tows that profited the police force and the presence of unregistered weapons stored in the department's evidence room.

In April, the district placed Deputy Superintendent Ziggy Robeson, who oversaw the Police Department, on paid leave. Earlier this month, Twin Rivers trustees approved buying out Robeson's contract for more than $260,000.

In all, paid leaves ranged from two days to a high of 671 business days – a record held by teacher Dominic Slavich. Data provided by Twin Rivers showed Slavich's leave stretched 2 1/2 years, from Dec. 4, 2009, to June 30 this year.

The 47-year-old continuation high school teacher said he was placed on leave after defending himself against a large student who cornered him in his classroom. Slavich said he notified the administration that the student had been threatening him, but little was done.

Slavich, who acknowledged keeping a stick in his room for self-defense, said he suspended the student for the threats, but the teen returned to school and aggressively entered his classroom.

"I cracked the kid with the stick across the jaw," Slavich said last year when contacted by The Bee about his leave. "The kid grabbed me in a choke. I knew how to hold my head so I didn't get choked out."

Slavich said he received a letter from the district indicating he was fired from his teaching job as of June 30. However, he said the district did not follow protocol by allowing him an open hearing as he had requested.

Teacher Craig Marcom said he too is waiting for a hearing, although his six months on paid leave ended last year. Marcom said he has been trying to clear his name ever since he was accused of inappropriately touching a student.

Marcom said he has proof of his innocence – an attendance report of the teen who accused him of inappropriate behavior.

The girl was absent the day of the alleged incident, according to the report provided to The Bee by Marcom, a science teacher at Foothill High School. A letter from Twin Rivers' human resources department, which was provided to The Bee by Marcom, said the teacher was accused of rubbing a girl's neck and asking if it stimulated her.

Marcom was on paid leave from May 9, 2011, to Nov. 11. He was allowed to return to work after he agreed on Nov. 10, 2011, to a three-day suspension without pay for misconduct, according to documents Marcom provided The Bee.

"They agreed to put me back in the classroom as long as I took three days of unpaid leave," Marcom said. "They thought I did these things, but were willing to put me back at school as long as I paid the fines. Does that make sense?"

Twin Rivers teachers union President John Ennis said the school district is too quick to put employees on leaves and then too slow to investigate.

Ennis was placed on paid leave in May, while police investigated an allegation he was involved with one of his special education students.

"I expected to be back at the start of the school year," Ennis said. "I'm still hopeful for a resolution soon. Taxpayers can't be happy. I'm not happy."

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Read more articles by Melody Gutierrez

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