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Arbitrator upholds firing of Haverhill 8th grade teacher

An arbitrator has ruled that Superintendent James F. Scully had just cause under state law to terminate the employment of Daniel Francescone, a former J.G. Whittier Middle School teacher who was fired in April 2012, less than one month after a jury found him not guilty of stealing money from student activity funds.

According to a written statement released by Scully, “Francescone will not be returning to the classrooms of the Haverhill public schools.”

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Francescone, who had worked at Whittier for 13 years, was accused in the fall of 2010 of misappropriating $5,700 from school dances and a lollipop fund-raiser, the proceeds of which were supposed to defray the cost of the eighth-grade field trip to Washington, D.C. Francescone was coadviser for the annual trip.

He was fired on April 11, 2012, about three weeks after a jury found him not guilty of two counts of larceny after a two-day trial in Haverhill District Court. He had been charged in January 2011 with four criminal counts of larceny and was placed on administrative leave; two of the counts were dismissed before trial.

Reached Tuesday evening, Francescone’s wife said by phone that her husband was unavailable and declined to comment. Phone messages left for Thomas G. Guiney, the attorney who represented the Haverhill Education Association, the teachers’ union, in the arbitration proceeding were not returned.

The union had grieved Francescone’s termination, arguing that the disposition of the charges in court should have ended the matter.

Arbitrator Philip Dunn disagreed, finding that “the standard of proof applied in those criminal proceedings, proof beyond a reasonable doubt, is a significantly higher burden of proof than the one that the employer must meet in order to establish just cause for termination.”

In his 32-page opinion, Dunn found that “the record evidence clearly and convincingly establishes that [Francescone] took about $150 in cash” from the net sales of refreshments at a school dance held on Nov. 19, 2011. When questioned about that missing cash, Francescone presented a “series of claims which he knew were not truthful,” Dunn wrote.

Dunn concluded that “in the case of egregious insubordination and misappropriation of student activity funds as occurred here . . . the employer was justified in moving directly to termination of employment, without any progressive discipline.”

According to Haverhill city solicitor William D. Cox Jr., an arbitration award is appealed to Superior Court on issues of law only (such as the arbitrator exceeded his legal authority). The facts found by the arbitrator cannot be appealed.

If the union decides to appeal, it has 30 days from the release of the arbitrator’s decision on Aug. 19 to file in superior court, Cox said.

Francescone, who had been hired in October 1999 to teach eighth-grade science, also coached school sports, organized school dances, supervised the student-run school store, and served as faculty adviser to the Junior National Honor Society.

“Decisions that are made by a school superintendent cannot always be explained in detail when such decisions are rendered,” said Scully. “It has been and will continue to be my intention to hold the staff of the Haverhill public schools to the highest standards of ethical behavior.”

Brenda J. Buote may be reached at brenda.buote@
gmail.com
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