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2 teachers lose jobs over residency rule

Two city teachers were relieved of their jobs Sept. 1 for alleged violations of the school district's residency policy, and more teachers may be let go.

An investigation showed the two teachers did not live in the district as they had agreed to do when they were hired, district officials indicated.

"I understand a couple more people have gotten letters [from the district]," Niagara Falls Teachers President Joseph Catalano said. "I know of one, and there may be more. I've heard as many as 10 to 15" more teachers may be called on residency violations.

School Superintendent Carmen A. Granto said he does not know if more teachers will go.

"It's possible," he said. "But I don't know. I'm not involved in that process."

School District lawyer Angelo Massaro and Human Resources Administrator Esther Isler Hamilton declined to comment.

Catalano promised legal action over the dismissals of Andrea O'Connor, a special-education teacher at LaSalle Middle School, and Dawn Smith-DeLuca, an English teacher at Niagara Falls High School.

"Our contention is they cannot fire a tenured teacher. The only way they can do that is by going through Section 3028-A of the state's Taylor Law. They must have due process. The Taylor Law says a teacher can only be dismissed on certain grounds, like moral turpitude, insubordination, incompetence or the commission of a criminal act," he said.

Granto said nobody has been fired.

"We accepted their voluntary resignations," he said. "When they were hired seven or eight years ago, they signed an agreement that they would live in the city if they wanted to work here, and, if they didn't, that this would mean they voluntarily resigned."

Although neither teacher submitted a letter of resignation, the board accepted what it viewed as their implied resignations by a 6-2 vote based on their employment agreement. Board members Carmellette Rotella and Mark Zito opposed the measure and disapprove of the residency requirement.

The residency policy was created in 1994 and applies to all district employees hired since that time, not just teachers, Hamilton said.

More than a year ago, the board investigated whether its employees lived in the district. The district sent out a survey asking employees for their home addresses and did not find anyone in violation of the policy. But after an apparent district investigation, some were found in violation.

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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