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Decision No. 13,129

Appeal of KENT F. CAULEY from action of the Board of Education of the Willsboro Central School District regarding termination of employment.

Decision No. 13,129

(March 10, 1994)

Whiteman Osterman & Hanna, Esqs., attorneys for petitioner, Melvin H. Osterman, Esq., of counsel

Judge & Duffy, Esqs., attorneys for respondent, H. Wayne Judge, Esq., of counsel

SOBOL, Commissioner.--Kent F. Cauley, Superintendent of Schools for the Willsboro Central School District ("petitioner"), challenges the October 14, 1993 determination of respondent Board of Education of the Willsboro Central School District ("respondent"), which found petitioner guilty of certain disciplinary charges preferred against him and terminated his employment. The appeal must be sustained in part.

On July 14, 1992, respondent preferred 44 written charges against petitioner, alleging that he breached his employment contract. On May 20, 1993, a hearing officer appointed by respondent found petitioner guilty of some of the charges and not guilty of others. The hearing officer further found that the guilty conduct did not amount to a breach of petitioner's employment contract. The hearing officer recommended that these "small and moderate instances" of petitioner's misconduct warranted some form of disciplinary action, e.g., suspension without pay for three months or a fine of an equivalent amount. On July 15, 1993, respondent charged petitioner with another instance of alleged misconduct. On August 27 and September 7, 1993, respondent held hearings on the second case. On October 14, 1993, respondent purported to reaffirm its earlier decision, accepted some of the hearing officer's findings, rejected others, found petitioner guilty of the July 15, 1993 charge and determined that the findings constituted a breach of petitioner's employment contract. Respondent voted to terminate petitioner's employment with the Willsboro Central School District. The material part of the board's resolution reads as follows:

"RESOLVED that as found by the hearing officer, Kent Cauley has breached his employment contract with the school district but, contrary to the hearing officer's finding, the breach was material and we found Mr. Cauley guilty of charges A-1, B-4, C-1, C-3, C-5, C-6, C-11, C-12, C-15, D-1, D-2, D-3, D-4, E-3, and G-2, and it is further

RESOLVED that based upon the evidence adduced at the hearing Kent Cauley is guilty of the New Charge, this conduct we believe to be a material breach of contract, and it is further

RESOLVED that all pay and benefits received by Mr. Cauley up to the date of this resolution may be retained by him, and it is further

RESOLVED, that Kent Cauley be, and he hereby is, discharged from employment at the Willsboro Central School, and it is further . . . . "

Petitioner contends that respondent's determination is procedurally and substantively flawed. On procedural grounds, petitioner claims that respondent failed to make findings of fact to support its determination. Without such findings, petitioner argues, relying on Smith v. Kings Park Central School District, 107 AD2d 749, that an intelligent challenge by an aggrieved party and adequate judicial review are impossible.

Having reviewed the hearing officer's detailed findings of fact, the hearing record on the second charge announced on July 15, 1993 and the board's decision on the first charges, I agree with petitioner. Unlike respondent, the hearing officer made detailed findings of fact and recommendations and thoroughly analyzed the reasons for his findings and recommendations. As to the first set of charges, respondent reversed certain findings of the hearing officer without explanation. With respect to the most recent charge against petitioner--and although the record contains conflicting testimony by witnesses to the alleged incident giving rise to the charge--respondent simply announced its conclusion without any analysis of the testimony or explanation of its reasoning. Furthermore, respondent has purported to impose the ultimate penalty, terminating petitioner's services, without indicating any reason for disagreeing with the hearing officer's recommendation of a three-month suspension without pay. Even assuming that respondent's determination is based on the latest charge and not the first, there is no analysis of the evidence in the record. Having failed to supply a decision which states the reason for the determination and indicates the evidence relied upon (Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254), the decision must be annulled on procedural grounds, and remanded to respondent for a proper determination. Matter of Driscoll, 15 Ed Dept Rep 200, see also Kinsella v. Board of Education, 378 F Supp 54, affirmed without opinion 542 F 2d 1165. Until such time as a final determination is issued by respondent, petitioner is entitled to receive the benefits granted him under his employment contract with the Willsboro Central School District.

Since I find respondent's determination inadequate to support a substantive review consistent with Education Law '310, I make no determination on the merits of the substantive claims raised in this proceeding.

THE APPEAL IS SUSTAINED TO THE EXTENT INDICATED.

IT IS ORDERED that respondent's determination of October 14, 1993 purporting to terminate petitioner's employment contract is hereby annulled, and respondent is directed to proceed expeditiously and in accordance with this decision.

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