Felon principal on the payroll

Convicted of third-degree rape, a Tacoma middle-school principal remains on the payroll. Harold Wright Jr. was convicted earlier this month of helping a friend rape a 19-year-old woman. He refuses to resign, reports the Tacoma News-Tribune.

. . . Wright, 36, continues to collect his $8,245-a-month salary, something he’s been doing since February, when he was first charged. So far, the district appears to have paid him at least $45,000 for time he wasn’t working. There are not many other jobs where commission of a felony can earn the perpetrator a sweet paid vacation.

But in Washington’s public schools – all public schools, not just Tacoma’s – even convictions for grave crimes do not permit administrators to simply fire the convicts. State law explicitly gives all educators the right to a potentially lengthy process of responses, hearings and appeals.

Washington legislators should change the law to make it easier to boot the next felon principal.

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  1. Maybe they should do what the National Football League is doing. The NFL’s new conduct policy pretty much leaves the decision-making on player conduct to the discretion of the commissioner. If he doesn’t like what he sees, he simply boots the player out of the league.

    Perhaps Washington needs a guy like Roger Goodell, who can review issues like this. Then, he could say, “Hmm, you’re charged with rape, we don’t need you.”

  2. The crucial difference is that if the commissioner of the NFL starts making stupid decisions there are franchise owners stand to lose a lot and are in a position to have their concerns taken seriously.

    What would be the group analogous to the franchise owners in the public education system?

  3. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Doesn’t it even bother his district that the 19-year-old was practically young enough to be a STUDENT under his care????

    Sheesh…. I’m surprised the parents aren’t outside the school board picketing…..

  4. Bill Leonard says:

    What is the point of any analogy, NFL or otherwise? This man has been convicted of a felony crime that should earnt him a stretch in prison, where I expect he will learn about rape in a whole new context.

    What I see here is the result of a teacher’s union lobby run amok: Even a convicted felon apparently cannot be fired without lengthy and expensive hearings and exchanges.

  5. The point of the analogy is to illustrate the difference in the handling of similar situations. In the NFL the sacrosanct “good” of the NFL would be invoked which is to say the concern that being seen as a haven for thugs and criminals might adversely impact viewership or some other source of income. If it isn’t a noble motivation it does serve to eject destructive elements.

    Obviously, that concern, to protect the organization, is subordinated by other considerations. If the teacher’s union has negotiated byzantine and convoluted firing procedures then they’re performing their function which is to get as much for their membership as possible.

    You can hardly fault an organization, the union, for performing the legal function for which it exists. The district probably extends the same firing procedure to principals as to the teachers. You couldn’t have those lower on the totem pole getting a better deal on something then their betters.

    The fault lies in the situation that made unions, and these sorts of excesses, inevitable. Change that and you might effect worthwhile change but as long as the structure and dynamics of public education remain unchanged these sorts of excesses will continue.

  6. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Long ago I was a union official. We defended the rights of our members, and our members had no right to commit a felony. The union in this case should have done no more than assure that the guy had adequate representation. Management that gives unions the authority to override a croiminal conviction is imcompetent, and such a contract is void.

  7. Walter E. Wallis says:

    I can spell criminal and incompetent. All other errors are the fault of the software. Someone needs to sue the district for paying that money out.

  8. “…to make it easier to boot the next felon principal.”

    The next one? How about this one, and any past or pending ones too? The criminal justice system provides plenty enough due process to not require a separate parallel administrative track. This would NOT be an ex post facto law because it would be not criminalizing previously legal behavior retrospectively: rape has been illegal forever.

  9. A convicted felon, especially a convicted sex offender, should not be allowed around children.

    Did I miss the outrage over Isaac Haqq? While not a sex offender he certainly sounds like someone who should not be around kids, but I guess since he founded and ran a charter school he gets a free pass at this site?

    Please point out the posts to me if he has been covered at this site before.

  10. Bill Leonard says:

    Allen, I cannot fault the union for doing its job. I can, however, fault a timid district or timid district administrators for not moving forward to terminate, immediately, a man who has been convicted of a felony as of the day of the conviction. Although I am not an attorney, I seriously doubt that such a contract provision could stand legal scrutiny after the fact of a felony conviction. Similarly, I doubt the union would — if the leadership is even half-bright — want to fight for such a provision in the court of public opinion. To do so would be sheer stupidity.

  11. Mike from Oregon says:

    Not really a surprise up here in the good ole liberal Pacific Northwest. We have a elementary school principal in a small town in Oregon who was caught smoking marijuana in a park, very openly. He admitted to it. His school district went to court a few years back and got the court to allow the district to require drug testing of student athletes – now here is this guy using drugs openly. Despite the obvious double standard, the man still has his job. Link to the story (too short, not enough details) here: http://blog.oregonlive.com/breakingnews/2007/07/vernonia_grade_school_principa.html

    After all though, this is the Pacific Northwest, home of the liberals, so we turn our heads when this type of crap shows up. Disgusting!!

  12. Richard Aubrey says:

    Bill Leonard.

    Sheer stupidity. So? What makes you think that’s a limiting factor?
    Exhibiting sheer stupidity can still make the administration’s job extremely hard and cost the system a lot of money.

    I was at a school board meeting many years ago when the subject was painful budget cuts. During question time, the head of the local EA stood up and got passionate about the decision to no longer give the teachers free passes to football and basketball games.

    Afterwards, I sympathized with him. Tough to feel you have to say that stuff, isn’t it?

    “No!”, he said, looking at me with fervor, “it’s serious!!!”

    I guess to rise to that level in a union you have to be crazier than your opponents.

    Maybe the local EA has already exhibited sheer stupidity, and the admin has learned its lesson.

    I sympathize with the view that the admin may be spineless. Although that’s in the job description, it’s painful to contemplate.

    My question is will they continue to pay the guy when he’s in jail.

  13. Bill, I *don’t* fault the union for doing its job. I expect it, it’s why they exist. One of the benefits a union will go after is job security and one means of achieving that job security is to make firing a teacher a very tough proposition.

    Given enough time I wonder whether you couldn’t negotiate contract provisions that if adhered too would make a felony conviction just another consideration in the firing process having as much impact on the firing process as a poor performance evaluation. It strikes me as being not all that unlikely that administrators might see a benefit as well.

    As for the court of public opinion, that can be safely ignored. Detroit graduates 25% of it’s freshman class. If the court of public opinion had any weight, you think that statistic would go unaddressed for long? The only time the court of public opinion is definitely in session is during school board elections. Considering the amount of attention school board elections typically get, that’s a pretty thin reed to lean on.

  14. straightarrow says:

    One question, what if the guy was in the laborer’s union? Ok, two questions.

    Would you still be as blase’ about his union taking care of him?

  15. Andy Freeman says:

    MiT continues to fail to understand choice.

    If all of the students at the rapist’s school decided to go elsewhere, the school would still get the money AND the state would go after their parents.

    If the students at a charter school decide to go elsewhere, the school loses its money.

    Given the state of public schools in Oakland, it’s not all that surprising that they’d be tolerant of a violent thug. (MiT continues to believe that the choice is between charter schools and perfection even though charter schools draw students from failed schools.)

    BTW – If the thug in question worked at Oakland’s public schools, he wouldn’t have the worst record. He just wouldn’t be mentioned by MiT.

    If MiT wants to protect students from the horrors that he believes charter schools to be, all he has to do is make public schools more attractive. If PS are so much better than CS, that should be easy.

  16. Andy Freeman says:

    BTW – It’s interesting that the state of washington clearly doesn’t believe that a serious crime was committed. After all, he’s not in jail – he just got an entry in his “permanent record”.

    I believe that if the state isn’t willing to incarcerate someone for at least a year, that person should not be treated as a felon.

  17. Bill Leonard says:

    Allen, I retired from the world of journalism, and later, corporate and agency public relations after working in those venues, part-time and full-time, for 40 years.

    Trust me when I tell you a campaign could be orchestrated that would hold the administration’s feet to the fire very publicly for quite a long time, and which would make life uncomfortable for the targets.

  18. Then you also know that outrage is a wasting asset. If you’re going to orchestrate, the window of opportunity isn’t that wide and is closing. If the orchestrators don’t get what they want pretty quick they won’t get anything.

    Depending on the school district the board may be more or less responsive to public pressure. The DPS board seems to be unaware that there’s a public out there who voted them into office if their antics are any guide. You can imagine how effective public pressure would be on them.

    Besides, even with a thoughtful, intelligent, committed school board they’re still at the center of a multi-directional tug of war. One of the tugees is the superintendent of schools. The supe may not want to have a convicted felon working as an assistant principal but firing him has to be weighed against the precedent of public outrage overriding the superintendent’s hiring or policy decisions.

    This is where the necessarily political nature of the public education system starts to really rear its ugly head: refusing to fire the convicted felon may be the right thing for the superintendent to do.

    A show can be made of due process “I” dotting and “T” crossing and our felon gets canned. But not during the height of the political storm. Not as a reaction to public outrage. That would undermine the authority of the superintendent and have repercussions long after the incident that precipitated the firing is forgotten. A superintendent whose authority is undermined in this fashion, and with it his credibility before the board, might as well look for a new job.

    OK Bill, you put on the hair shirt.

    You’re now the new superintendent of Detroit Public Schools with its 25% graduation rate. You want to enact breath-taking reforms, a real meat-and-potatoes organizational overhaul that’ll upset long-standing cozy relationships and endanger various petty fiefdoms. You’re going to need every political advantage you can muster to overcome the resistance and one of your assistant principals is convicted of third-degree rape.

    Do you fire the son of a bitch before the jury foreman’s “Quilty” stops echoing, sharing the public’s outrage and letting the chips fall where they may? Or do you display resolution in the face of public anger, insisting on everything being done properly, the letter of law is being met and all legal obligations satisfied?

    If you pick “A” maybe you’re not so tough. A couple of noisy demonstrations and you fold. You’ve given your opponents some encouragement. Or do you pick “B” and make it clear that you’re a rock in the face of pressure and thereby discourage your opponents?

    Well this sure went on longer then I intended but the point I’m trying to make is that the necessarily political nature of public education makes decisions like I’ve just described legitimately difficult. I’d rather have an institutional structure that makes the decision easy.

  19. Bill Leonard says:

    No, Allen, I’m not the new superintendent of the Detroit public school system. Your whole Detroit scenario is bullshit.

    But perhaps I am a knowledgable parent in Tacoma, the district in question.

    It will take time and effort, and perhaps a modicum of money, to judiciously use publicity and generate a recall campaign against the current board of trustees. If you don’t think that charges around the keeping of a convicted felon on the public payroll and a consequent recall campaign won’t generate a lot of local publicity — locally is, after all, where these trustees are elected — which will likely lead to action before a recall campaign can gain momentum, then you are naive. In fact, the local press and broadcast media really aren’t crucial; a carefully crafted campaign within the school district will do the trick.

    Trust me, Allen, I’ve seen it happen before.

  20. Andy

    The case of Isaac Haqq is one of the most obvious reasons public schools need to be run by professional educators and NOT anyone who wants to dabble in education. Apparently no one bothered to check up on him, and the fact he changed his name makes it obvious he had something to hide. Were the parents at the charter school informed of who he REALLY was? Was the truth about him hidden from the public by the pro charter crowd in Oakland? Here in Texas my qualifications are considered public record, anyone can ask for them. Charter schools can hide this kind of information. Just another of the free passes politicians give them.

    The convicted felon remains on the payroll due to state laws, not local decisions (read the article). Put the blame where it belongs, with the politicians who wrote the laws and didn’t think to put an exception into place for convicted sex offenders.

  21. Mike’n’Taxes said:

    “…public schools need to be run by professional educators and NOT anyone who wants to dabble in education. “

    Much as I hate to agree with Mike, he’s got a point. With professional educators you know exactly what to expect: guaranteed failure year after year, teachers who score in the 25th %ile on the GRE, and so on and so forth.

    The problem with charters is that many of them will change and improve, and then BANG! goes stability.

    We just can’t have that.


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