Parents Upset After School Fails To Fire Felons (FL)
In an emergency meeting on Monday, Explorer Elementary and Middle School's board of directors refused to fire two convicted felons despite one board member's plea and eventual resignation, Local 6 News partner Florida Today reported.
The night ended with the resignation of the board member and two teachers, while some dismayed parents promised to withdraw their children.
Board member David Silverman, a Brevard County judge, called the emergency meeting after an Internet search turned up criminal records for both Jay Maer, finance director, and his son Michael Maer, who was hired as a janitor but now works at the front desk and often oversees the after-school program.
Jay Maer, 55, was convicted in 2004 of grand theft, forgery and forging a check -- three felony offenses. He served four months in a Massachusetts prison, was ordered to pay more than $170,000 in restitution and was sentenced to three years of probation, which he is serving until July 10. Maer's probation terms prohibit him from serving in any position that involves money management or oversight, Florida Department of Corrections officials said.
Michael Maer, 23, was convicted last March of fraud, also a felony in Rhode Island. He was sentenced to more than nine years of probation and ordered to repay more than $50,000. The school's financial situation has been in question since recently released audits revealed the school was operating in a deficit and making personal loans to employees, among other alleged violations of accounting principles and federal law.
Since then, the school's top two leaders, Principal Ruben Rosario and Vice Principal Tiffany Malcolm, resigned through e-mails to the board.
"The board needs to re-establish the confidence of the teachers and the parents in this school. And what confidence will they have in folks who are on felony probation, who are convicted felons, who may very easily be alone with children on school grounds?" board member Silverman said, prompting the majority of the crowd to burst into applause.
Chairman Greg Gaddis and Patty Satterwhite, the remaining two board members, defended the Maers and said they are satisfied with their job performance and comfortable with their proximity to the school's students. The school, which has been open since 1998, serves 252 students in grades prekindergarten to 8.
"What you have accused him of is that once you're convicted that you're always a bad guy. Should I continue to suspect that they're going to do bad things?" said Gaddis, drawing applause.
More than 100 parents and staff members attended the meeting, which ended in this sequence of escalating events:
Silverman's motion to fire both Maers and set a policy that the school not employ convicted felons failed when neither Gaddis nor Satterwhite seconded it. Until last week, the board had five members. Mohammad Samarah, who was escorted out of the meeting by two Melbourne police officers after shouting, served on the board for three years until his term expired last week. Meredith Day, a former Explorer teacher, resigned from the board last week after a heated meeting about the school's finances.
Gaddis then recommended that Rosario, who he said "possibly" suffered a heart attack earlier Monday and was admitted to Palm Bay Community Hospital, be placed on paid administrative leave pending his recovery. Hospital officials confirmed Rosario's admittance.
Gaddis said he would not accept the e-mail resignations of Rosario or Malcolm, despite Malcolm's insistence her last day is Friday. Malcolm said she had no prior knowledge of the Maers' criminal history and no involvement in the school's finances. She said she resigned because of threats Rosario made to her and other teachers if they didn't support his leadership.
Gaddis made a motion to hire Jill Webb, 29, the school's curriculum coordinator, as acting principal until at least the next board meeting April 4. Satterwhite seconded the motion, making the action official. "This is crazy!" shouted teacher Suzanne Coomber, in tears.
Silverman then announced his resignation, stating his lack of confidence in other board members and his inability to change their minds. Silverman said he "gave it his best shot," to the dismay of parents and staff who begged for him to stay. "How is anything going to get done with cruel and unfair people up there?" said Sarah Maples, a former student whose mother is the school's librarian.
Two teachers who were disappointed with the outcome shouted their disapproval with the two remaining board members and quit before storming out of the meeting. Middle school math teacher Tony Wall and middle school social studies teacher George Derr said they would not return to school Tuesday.
The resignations led to angry cries of many parents who said they would no longer send their children to the West Melbourne school. "Now who is going to teach our kids?" yelled Tony Ward, whose eighth-grade son attends the school.
Two Melbourne police officers pushed teachers and parents out of the boardroom, and said the meeting was over.
With only a handful of people remaining, nearly all of whom work at the school, Gaddis and Satterwhite announced they were continuing the meeting. They discussed Webb's promotion, decided to put Rosario on paid leave and outlined their next board agenda, which they agreed would include the search for new board members.
Despite his convictions, Jay Maer said he is innocent and had pleaded guilty only to avoid a longer jail sentence. He said he was not aware that his position as the school's finance guru violated his probation. "If I am mistaken, I will do whatever it takes to make it better," said Maer, who still owes $32,000 to a resort in Nantucket, Mass.
After the meeting, parents gathered outside to rehash the evening's events. Many said they feel betrayed by school officials they trusted and confused about where to turn for help.
"Why aren't they accountable?" asked Pam Mullins, who has two children at the school. "I don't know what to do with my children at this point."
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