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Reinstated Teacher to Go on Leave Until Fall

January 23, 1986|BOB WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

Brian Springer, a shop teacher fired three years ago and then ordered reinstated by an appellate court this month, plans to return to teaching in the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District next fall after a leave of absence, his attorney said Wednesday.

Springer, 45, of Palos Verdes Estates, requested the unpaid leave, attorney Richard J. Schwab said, because "he felt it would be disruptive to the students and possibly mean bumping another teacher if he returned in the middle of the school year."

Springer, who was accused by the district of conducting a private business on school property at Palos Verdes High School, had been on the payroll in clerical and other non-teaching jobs pending the outcome of his case.

"Mr. Springer's whole life has been teaching young people and he is very enthusiastic about getting back to the classroom," Schwab said.

No Appeal

District spokeswoman Nancy Mahr said that school officials had decided not to appeal the Jan. 3 ruling by the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles.

In granting the leave, she said, the school board did not indicate what it would do about assigning Springer to a teaching post. Still undecided, Mahr said, is the question of paying Springer's legal expenses.

The cost of the three-year litigation may be as high as $100,000, according to "ballpark estimates" by Springer's attorney, who said the state Education Code requires the district to pay if a teacher prevails in a legal action.

"This case was fully litigated before three tribunals and that's quite expensive," said Schwab, estimating that his bill is in the $50,000 range. He said "one might assume that attorneys for the district don't work for any less."

Mahr gave no estimate on the district's expense, noting that legal costs in the Springer case have not been separated from charges for other legal work.

Back Pay No Issue

Both sides agreed that there is no issue of back pay, because Springer has continued working for the district at his previous salary while appealing his dismissal as a teacher.

Springer, on the advice of his attorney, has declined to comment on his case. He acknowledged in court testimony, however, that he had used school equipment and student labor to manufacture sports equipment such as caddies for track starting blocks, lap counters and small scoreboards.

He said he carried on the enterprise openly and kept an accounting of school materials and utilities that he used, reimbursing the district for the cost. Schwab said Springer mentioned his commercial venture to administrators at the high school in May of 1982 and was instructed to cease the operation on school property. Springer believed, however, that he would be allowed to phase it out gradually, Schwab said.

In September, 1982, the school's principal ordered the business stopped immediately. The district issued a notice of dismissal in early 1983, charging Springer with dishonesty, evident unfitness for service and persistent violation of school regulations.

Ouster Not Endorsed

Springer appealed to a state Commission on Professional Competence, set up under the state Education Code to review teacher firings. It criticized Springer's actions but declined to endorse his ouster from the teaching post.

A Superior Court later found that the district had adequate cause to dismiss Springer, but that position was overturned by the appellate court. The three-judge panel observed that Springer had expressed contrition for his "poor judgment" and concluded that the district had acted too harshly in dealing with the problem.

The court noted cases in other districts in which more serious infractions had not resulted in dismissal and said the basic legal issue was whether a teacher's conduct affected his or her ability to teach.

In Springer's case, the court said, the district had not shown that his teaching ability had been significantly diminished, especially in view of his previous 16 years of unblemished service.

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