Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Anchorage School District Fires Accused Cokehead Gruening Middle School Assistant Principal Mario Toro
The Anchorage School District (ASD) claims to have a zero tolerance attitude towards drugs. And, although they limit mandatory drug testing to drivers, they proved their "zero tolerance" on Wednesday January 30th, 2008 when they announced the termination of 43-year-old Gruening Middle School Assistant Principal Mario A. Toro Jr (pictured above left). Full story just published in the Anchorage Daily News and now posted by KTUU Channel 2. Previous story blogged HERE.
District officials said they have been unable to reach Toro to tell him directly of the dismissal, but word was sent to him via a messenger. Toro is facing three felony drug charges following his alleged use of cocaine on school grounds. Because the offense was committed on school grounds, it is considered a more serious Class B felony rather than an ordinary Class C felony.
Toro has been on paid administrative leave since January 15th, when colleagues at an administrative training session at Wendler Middle School told police they saw him return from his parked car behaving erratically with a white powder on his nose. After he refused a search of his possessions, police executing a search warrant found a white powdery residue that field-tested positive for cocaine, and a full lab test was ordered. Later, police searched Toro's office at Gruening and found more powder that tested positive for cocaine along with drug paraphernalia and filed a new charge against him.
Toro pleaded not guilty at his arraignment to the three counts of third-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance and was released on $15,000 bail (boosted from the original $10,000. He is required to stay off school grounds, submit to random drug testing while he awaits trial and wear an ankle monitor while out on bail.
Although Toro has been on paid administrative leave since January 15th, ASD officials further announced that they are rescinding his back pay through January 18th, meaning that he will receive only the three days of paid leave between Jan. 15-18. ASD officials also announced that Toro's request to be allowed to resign in lieu of termination was refused. And even though Toro has not yet been tried on the charges. ASD officials contend they have enough evidence to warrant his termination, based upon prior precedent and the information contained in the charging documents.
However, Toro will be allowed to keep his state retirement benefits under the termination policy.
Residents of the Municipality of Anchorage might want to use this opportunity to familiarize themselves with ASD's proposed upcoming $43.7 million bond package. It must be approved by the Anchorage Assembly at their February 12th meeting before it can go on the April ballot.
Commentary: Some people might think that firing Toro now, before his case comes to trial, violates the presumption of innocence. The presumption of innocence only means that you are presumed innocent in the eyes of the law during a court trial. It does not, and should not require an employer to carry you on the payroll while you are formally accused. In addition, many employers have a "morals clause", meaning that if you engage in, or are formally accused of criminal behavior, you can be terminated.
Personally, I would have taken a slightly higher road and put Toro on indefinite unpaid suspension, in which he would have been offered reinstatement if exonerated, or immediately terminated once Toro either pleaded or was found guilty. But I have no qualms with the way ASD handled this; they acted quickly to solve a problem.
Of course, this will also improve the public perception of ASD at a time when, coincidentally, another batch of school bonds are up for consideration, and the voting public has been notoriously fickle about passing school bonds.
There are questions as to how uniformly this "zero tolerance" policy has been applied. Back in October 2005, during the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) Conference in Fairbanks, Seat C School Board Member Mary Marks got a bit tanked up and was caught in a simple DUI (no accident involved). However, her fellow school board members were unwilling to consider suspension or expulsion; they merely expressed public censure. In Marks' defense, she did take responsibility for her actions, and she did publicly apologize at a school board meeting. There has been no recurrence. But I cite this as a reminder that the rules aren't always applied uniformly. Marks' term expires in April 2008; she has until February 8th to declare an intent to seek a third term.