SALAMANCA – Charles T. “Chuck” Crist will be returning to his position as principal of Seneca Elementary School on Tuesday after an investigation has cleared him of professional misconduct.
Crist, a former professional football player, had been off the job for more than four years while a private investigator, working under the direction of the state Education Department, looked into charges against him. The nature of the allegations have never been made public.
The Salamanca Board of Education, after meeting in executive session for 90 minutes Tuesday, unanimously agreed to have Crist’s record cleared and to give him his position back.
Superintendent Robert J. Breidenstein said he disagreed with the decision, handed down in a 109-page document. He said the report concluded the district was “unsuccessful in meeting the high burden of just cause for termination.” Breidenstein said he and the Board of Education “categorically disagree with the decision, but ... will abide by it, 100 percent.”
He said that at the time when then-Superintendent, J. Douglas Hay escorted Crist out of his office and the building in November 2009, there was an overwhelming amount of concern and evidence presented to the board against him.
“If the same thing were to happen tomorrow, I can assure that it would be met with the same response,” Breidenstein said. “While we disagree with the decision, in opinion, we will abide by integrity and I will be at the door to welcome Mr. Crist back, and to finally meet him.”
In a phone interview, Crist said he feel a sense of relief and is gratified by the decision. He said the past four plus years have been tough and he is eager to jump back into his position.
“It’s obviously been terrifying to be scrutinized in the public eye, even after the decision has been rendered,” he said. “There are no winners in this and I am glad the proper decision has been rendered.”
He said he will have more to say after he resumes his job on Tuesday.
All told, Breidenstein said the district has spent $540,000 in what he terms as a flawed process. He said the state could have found a solution months earlier, but allowed the case to drag on.
He said the district has spent $460,000 in legal and forensic investigatory resources, as well as paying the salary of Mary Elizabeth Koch in a dual position, serving as the interim principal and as curriculum director for the district. She earned a salary of $111,531, according to SeeThroughNY.net.
The same site shows that, at the time of his administrative leave in 2009, Crist was receiving a salary of $104,892. Under contract raises afforded by New York State Law, that amount rose to $119,156 in 2013.
Koch will continue to do teacher evaluations this school year since Crist is not certified in that area and the district does not believe he will be able to complete the required multi-day training in this school year.
Crist, a Salamanca native, played professional football for New York Giants, New Orleans Saints and the San Francisco 49ers. He played college basketball at Penn State University.