Manatee superintendent recommends board give Robert Gagnon back pay, benefits; board to take action Tuesday

mdelaney@bradenton.comJuly 17, 2014 

BRADENTON -- After being cleared by judges in criminal and administrative cases -- and having Superintendent Rick Mills drop an administrative complaint -- Robert Gagnon is in line to receive $116,000 from the Manatee County School District.

The Manatee County School Board will consider giving the former district administrator back pay, benefits and vacation time after it suspended him in connection with allegations of abuse leveled against Roderick Frazier, an employee at Manatee High.

According to the agenda for the Tuesday meeting, Mills is recommending the school board award Gagnon an amount not to exceed $116,333.45. The money will come from the district's

general fund and was included in the 2014-15 staff attorney budget.

The proposal is included under the human resources section in the school board's July 22 consent agenda -- only one among items that total $1.6 million in spending.

Of the $116,000, $85,000 is for back pay and benefits, although some money will be deducted for his retirement. Gagnon will also receive about $30,000 in vacation pay if the board approves the proposal.

"We're happy they're moving forward," said Gagnon's attorney, Richard Reinhart. "After this, we're hopeful we can put this part behind us."

Reinhart said he expects the board to approve the item with no issue. Gagnon did not respond to requests for comment.

Gagnon, a former assistant superintendent and former principal at Manatee High School, has been fighting to be reinstated since the school board approved a suspension without pay in October in connection with his handling of allegations against Frazier, a former Manatee High School assistant football coach.

The district did not renew Gagnon's contract this year, so he became unemployed as of July 1.

In a criminal case, Gagnon was acquitted of charges he failed to report allegations of child abuse to the Florida Department of Children and Families.

A recommended order, filed in late June by administrative law judge Lynne Quimby-Pennock, states the school district failed to show sufficient evidence Gagnon violated any law, rule or school board policy.

"There was no direct, non-hearsay evidence that Respondent knowingly failed to perform his duties as principal or assistant superintendent in the appropriate manner," the recommended order reads.

The district may also be expected to cover the legal fees Gagnon paid during his criminal trial, Reinhart said.

"We haven't sent that request to the school district yet," Reinhart said, adding that they plan to soon.

Based on current statute, the district wouldn't have to pay Gagnon's legal fees for the administrative hearing.

Board member Barbara Harvey said on Wednesday that she will vote in favor of restoring Gagnon's back pay.

"He was not proven guilty and he should have his pay back," she said. "We have to follow the law of the land."

Board member Robert Gause said returning Gagnon's pay is the "least we can do for him."

"There's been a lot of harm done to that man," Gause said.

Board chair Julie Aranibar and board member Karen Carpenter would not comment on whether they will vote in favor of restoring Gagnon's back pay, but Carpenter said she would do "what is legal and appropriate."

Board member Dave "Watchdog" Miner declined to share whether he thought Gagnon deserved the back pay, but said he thinks the item should be under the new business portion of the agenda instead of the consent items, so school board members can discuss it publicly. Miner said anything requiring an expense of more than $100,000 should be under new business.

Suspended assistant principals Matthew Kane and Gregg Faller have completed criminal trials. Kane was acquitted of the same charges Gagnon faced and Faller was convicted of a misdemeanor charge of not reporting child abuse and sentenced to one day of probation.

Kane and Faller are still waiting on recommended orders from administrative law judges.

Frazier, who resigned from the district, pleaded no contest to three misdemeanor counts of battery and three misdemeanor counts of interfering with school attendance. He was sentenced to three years' probation, including six months' house arrest.

Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.

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