By MAX FILBY
Despite mounting legal bills, Liberty-Benton Schools is seeking to appeal a county judge’s ruling that it fired a teacher without having good cause.
At a special meeting Tuesday morning, the school board approved a motion to appeal the judge’s decision concerning the firing of Mark Badertscher to the 3rd District Court of Appeals. Four of the board’s members were present, with three voting in favor of an appeal and one voting against.
“There’s things that you do that are right for the kids and the board thinks that this is what’s right for them,” Superintendent Jim Kanable said.
Kanable declined to comment further.
Liberty-Benton fired Badertscher, an agriculture teacher and a 22-year veteran with the district, following a May 2012 incident between two unsupervised students.
Badertscher briefly left his classroom to set up a final examination in a nearby room. While he was gone, one student put another student in a chokehold, and the student being choked briefly lost consciousness.
Badertscher noticed nothing wrong upon his return to the classroom, according to Common Pleas Judge Reginald Routson.
The school district has paid nearly $70,000 in legal bills during its effort to fire Badertscher. If the district’s appeal is not successful, it will also owe Badertscher two years of back pay and benefits, according to Judge Routson’s decision.
Badertscher earned $70,881 as a Liberty-Benton teacher during the 2011-12 school year, according to the state treasurer’s salary database.
Badertscher said Tuesday if the district appeals, it will cost taxpayers even more money.
“At some point, the taxpayers have to stand up and make the school district accountable for something they’ve already been told they’re wrong about,” Badertscher said.
To date, the district’s legal fees have been paid from its general fund. The legal costs for the appeal will be mostly covered by an insurance company, Kanable said.
“The longer this goes on, the more it’s going to cost them and the taxpayers,” Badertscher said.
Badertscher said his legal fees are being paid by the Liberty-Benton Teachers Association, Ohio Federation of Teachers and American Federation of Teachers.
The school board initially compiled 10 numbered claims as reasons for removing Badertscher, including failure to monitor his classroom. But the board did not list the chokehold incident as one of the numbered reasons, which “unnecessarily limited” the argument for firing him, Judge Routson decided.
Routson wrote that the school board failed to prove the other allegations against Badertscher.
The board also fired him despite an Ohio Department of Education referee’s report recommending Badertscher be reinstated.