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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Wasted in North Bellmore, NY

By: D. Hall
Wasted at North Bellmore School District

I was illegally terminated from my teaching job at in June of 2005. My intention for publicizing my experience on this website is to expose the truth about our education system.

I am a 59-year-old woman who was terminated from her position as an orchestra director for the North Bellmore School in Long Island. I loved my job and built up the program since I was hired in September of 2002, and entered my children in many extracurricular concerts and festivals, since I was affiliated these many musical organizations as a professional. I have videos, pictures and programs to validate the fact that I was their district orchestra director. Although I have been a musician all of my life, I went back to school full time in 1994 so that I could acquire my NYS certifications so that I could reach my dream of teaching in the NY Public School system. I received my Bachelors of Music Education in 2000 and my Masters in Music Education in 2003, and Music Certification K-12 in 2003.

My orchestra program at North Bellmore was awarded community funds for its continuation by the end of the 2005 school year. Perhaps the superintendent did not get the fact that he was firing the sole director and person responsible for its success.

Since the union contract states that tenure will be granted at the end of a successful 3-probation period, I was anxiously anticipating the announcement of my tenure in April of 2005. I was hired in September of 2002 and there was nothing to make me suspect otherwise. Instead, I was given my "request for termination" by Mr. Mucci, the new superintendent, in April of 2005. Prior to this "award," he had never talked to me. He did not know anything about me, my qualifications, or what my position entailed. No one else knew either, since I had no help or no supervisor. My personnel file was suspiciously empty. It was missing my Master's Degree, my job description, and my permanent certification. It contained no annual observations and did not contain any evidence of the numerous concerts that I had conducted since 2002, which numbered 27 concerts! I conducted more concerts than any other music teacher did - 9 per year, while the band and orchestra only performed 2 per year.

I believe I was fired because Mr. Mucci wanted to hide the following administrative negligence and malfeasance:

I told Mr. Mucci I had no supervisor and no one to assist me in the administrative side of my job. I was having great difficulty trying to schedule my rehearsals, concerts and class time. This is an administrative function and required access to the administrative calendar on the computer network of which I was not allowed access.

I told Mr. Mucci that I thought it was inappropriate not to be informed of Special Ed students in my class. The "music coordinator", Mr. Wolk, demanded that I allow any student who wanted to take a string instrument (violin, viola, etc.) into my class. I was not part of any IEP team, and my professional evaluation was ignored. By law, I should have at least been informed that these students were IEP. If I voiced my concern, I was accused of being "insubordinate," since parents of special education were quite vocal in this district and decisions were based on fear and ignorance rather than intelligent consultations. In my naivete, I thought that Mr. Mucci would straighten this out! (Much to learn!)

I told Mr. Mucci that I had not been observed in my first 2 ½ years of my 3-year probation period, when every other teacher is observed annually. My union representative told me that I needed these observations for tenure. How was I to be awarded tenure if I had no observations for the past 2 ½ years?

I told Mr. Mucci the name of the principal, Marilyn Hirschfield, who had given me a bad evaluation in 2004 and had accused me of being an "insensitive" teacher, although she had never observed me. Frankly, she had lied and had never observed me. This can be proven, since no written observations exist prior to a month before my firing.

I told Mr. Mucci that there is no realistic account of my achievements, my teaching ability, my credentials, or my rehearsals or my concerts for the past 2 ½ years because of my empty personnel file and lack of supervisory assistance and lack of observations and evaluations.

I went to this superintendent on April 1, 2005 because I had nowhere else to go with scheduling problems. At that time, I was still naïve enough to think that surely the superintendent could help me, as my only source of administrative help. So I initiated this meeting and went to this meeting alone. But instead of helping me, he handed me an envelope requesting my termination, even though I was completing, and did complete my probation period!

When I asked the superintendent why I was being terminated, he warmly replied that I would have to ask in writing in a letter to him before the May 5, 2005 North Bellmore Board Meeting. I did better than that. I sent a packet to each and every board member including all overwhelmingly positive evaluations from North Bellmore district principals. I explained exactly what I did in the district, that I worked in all schools, and that there was a traditional bus tour of concerts, which took place in all the schools. I even included numerous pictures of the orchestra concerts and smiling faces of happy events!! I prepared these packets with my lawyer and took them to the district clerk, who was to make sure that each board member received this information. I have no idea whether any of the board members ever received these packets since the district clerk is also the assistant to the principal, so if the superintendent had anything to do with it, do YOU think the board members received it? Judging from his track record?

When I filed a grievance with the union challenging due process and adequate notice for my tenure, I sat down with the president of the teachers union and she reluctantly typed what amounted to be a faint-hearted pretense of a grievance. This document was never acted upon and procedure was clearly not followed. The union president told me bluntly that the superintendent could do whatever he wants. She was also working closely with the superintendent all year on the budget. The school lawyer of course backed her up with the same statement.

In October of 2005, I filed a complaint with the NYS Public Relations Board (PERB) regarding the union's failure to represent me in what resulted in wrongful termination. I was granted a legitimate case number, hearings, etc. A PERB hearing took place in May of 2005, with the school and union administrators. I am still awaiting a decision from this day-long hearing, although PERB is supposed to be swift regarding their decisions. Even though any one else reading the contract would say it is a slam-dunk conclusion that the union clearly did not follow procedure. This is not brain surgery either!!

I have also filed a complaint in October of 2005 with the NYS Human Rights Division regarding my cornucopia of disparate treatment by this district. This is currently in process as an ongoing legitimate case of discrimination. More legal documents ad nauseum.

Most disappointing, however is the NYS Commissioner of Education, Commissioner Mills who received my petition to him regarding wrongful and illegal termination, of which I also have a legitimate case pending. This petition was served to North Bellmore District before the end of June of 2005, before school was even out. Having just graduated from school, I had full confidence in the Education Department and Commissioner Mills in having awareness of my very current state-of-the-arts qualifications and certifications. Everybody knows that he makes all the rules and regulations!! But maybe what we didn't realize was that all those rules and regulations are only for teachers!

Straight out of school, I had been indoctrinated as to the importance of credentials, skills and education, and I felt very confident, regardless of my age. In addition, I was sure that he was very aware of my oh-so-current $23,000 debt to the NYS Education Department for my school loans for this education that amounts to the above scenario. Commissioner Mills had full power to grant me what is called an "Order of Stay," which would have frozen the action of the superintendent. If he had granted me this, I would have continued as a teacher on the first day of school in September of 2005, and would have been granted tenure by "estoppel." This is a legal term used when one earns tenure by default when one has been "overlooked" and worked the required time. However, although I was denied the "Order of Stay," I was granted a legitimate case number, and the green light to write 100+ pages ad nauseum of legal documents, including answer, replies, rebuttals, memorandum of laws, etc. I had to do this myself because, of course, I didn't have money for a lawyer. However, I did not go for 8 years of music education to write legal documents to prove my existence, nor did I serve North Bellmore for 3 years as district orchestra director to kill my music career!!. Commissioner Mills' very polite secretary said that he would make his decision promptly. Well, here it is, a year later and still not a peep from him. Ho, humm.

I have submitted more than sufficient documentation to support my case to the commissioner. This included incriminating e-mails from hostile principals, unsigned documents, unsigned scrawled notes supposedly from parents, pictures of my students smiling faces in rehearsals and concerts, and 4 overwhelmingly positive and detailed evaluations from principals. Incidentally, Superintendent Mucci much preferred the unsigned, personal comments from Principal Marilyn Hirschfield as rationale to terminate me rather than positive observations from the 4 other principals. There were also statements from principals attesting to my lack of administrative support to conduct my job. There is also documentation of a hostile work environment and evidence of misrepresentations and fraud. Yet in the face of all of this, these agencies turn the other way. This is not brain surgery!

My unemployment has run out and I have been out of work now for a full year. At the present time there is not a chance that I would be hired somewhere else in this illustrious public school system. I am not 18 years old either. As this my first full time appointment in the school system, it was to supposed to build my career on the excellent reputation that I had from student teaching and numerous temporary music assignments I had in Long Island that I had worked for. Not destroy it!! I really get pangs of anger when I come across letters of congratulations that I received from principals and administrators from other school concerts during my student teaching and substitute teaching. In the music teaching professions, it is good form for the principal or superintendent send a note congratulating you for each and every concert and commenting on various aspects! I have a collection of these congratulatory notes from other schools! It is unbelievable that I would get more acknowledgments as a substitute than for 3 years and 27 concerts at North Bellmore! Let it be known that this is not just validation for me, but for the students, who were also neglected by not being acknowledged for their work and efforts. I had to buy them their NYSSMA music pins with my own money!

I was never given any type of severance from this job, my health care was abruptly taken away before June 30th of 2005. Mr. Mucci said he would not give me a good recommendation at the Public Employee Relations Hearing as the "District" complained how much money this legal expense is cost them! There is no validation for 27 successful concerts that we performed in this district. At the PERB hearing, when Mr. Mucci was asked by my lawyer, "was she the district orchestra director of North Bellmore, Mr. Mucci replied, "No."

Please reply with any ideas to publicize this atrocity. Contact me at Wasted in North Bellmore.

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