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Superintendent: Random drug tests not feasible

In the wake of an arrest of a Manatee High School teacher who, police say, was pawning the school’s electronics to feed his prescription drug addiction, the school district superintendent said Saturday that random drug testing for teachers is not necessary.

“There’s over 100 teachers at Manatee High School. They’re all doing a great job. It’s a shame the public will see this teacher who has an addiction problem,” said Manatee County School District Superintendent Tim McGonegal.

On Thursday, 25-year-old Christopher J. Potter, a television production instructor and yearbook adviser, was arrested on two counts of drug possession, one count of resisting without violence, five counts of dealing in stolen property and five counts of grand theft after administrators heard from another staff member that Potter planned to purchase a .40 caliber handgun and take it to an end-of-school-year faculty gathering. He posted a $12,750 bond Friday and is expected to face additional criminal charges, according to Bradenton Police investigators.

Approximately 2,700 faculty members in the district had to undergo drug testing when they were initially hired, according to district procedures. Bus drivers are randomly drug tested because they transport students, according to policy.

A 41-year-old west Bradenton mother, who has a junior at Manatee High, said she would like to see drug testing for school staff members — especially since Potter’s arrest.

“They should do it periodically. They are talking about drug testing our children who go there. Why shouldn’t they randomly drug test the faculty?” she said. “What’s going on in this school is a little scary.”

McGonegal said random drug testing for faculty members in Manatee public schools would be cost prohibitive and disruptive to students’ learning environment.

“(Faculty drug use) is not the norm. You can imagine what it would look like if we were going to do that for 2,700 teachers and what the cost to the learning environment would be,” he said, estimating it would tie up teachers for half a day and require hiring substitutes.

McGonegal said principals undergo training to identify changes in staff behavior that could possibly be the result of drug use. If principals do suspect something, they can request that the teacher submit to a drug test.

School officials said Potter was acting “erratic” and gave them cause for concern early last week, but declined to elaborate further. In this case, McGonegal said he was unaware if Manatee High Principal Bob Gagnon had any concerns about Potter.

Potter, who had an annual contract with the district, was notified about two weeks ago by administration that he would not be returning next year, McGonegal said.

Potter told police he increased his intake of Oxycontin pills when he learned his annual contract would not be renewed, according to an arrest report. His last day of work would have been June 10. In the meantime, he remains on administrative paid leave during the investigation.

The contract was not going to be renewed because of Potter’s performance in the classroom, McGonegal said. Teachers with annual contracts undergo two reviews in a school year to make sure they meet teaching standards.

“(Gagnon) is very good about making human resource decisions. So he decided not to renew,” McGonegal said.

Police seized a .40 caliber gun, other weapons and school property from Potter’s Sarasota residence this week. Potter could not be reached for comment for this article.