Janesville teacher who resigned after being accused of drinking on job gets $18,000

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Frank Schultz
Monday, August 12, 2013

JANESVILLE—A teacher who resigned after she was suspected of being drunk at an end-of-the-year field trip has secured a separation agreement that pays her $18,452.

School Board President Greg Ardrey on Monday said the payment was the best and least costly option for the district.

If the district had investigated and tried to fire teacher Maria Caya, the legal costs would have exceeded the $18,452, Ardrey told The Gazette.

If the district had lost its case, Caya could have been reinstated. Ardrey said that would have put the parents of the children entrusted to Caya’s care in a difficult position.

Ardrey said the lump-sum payment was based on Caya’s daily wage at the time of her resignation, which was multiplied by the number of unused sick days she had accumulated during her 14 years with the school district.

Teachers can accumulate up to 10 unused sick days each year.

If Caya had worked 20 years in the district and reached age 55, she could have traded sick days for district health insurance that would carry her through to Medicare age, said Dave Parr, who as president of the teachers union was involved in negotiating the agreement.

“I think it was a good outcome for Maria and her family. She made this decision, and we supported her with it,” Parr said. “I think it was a good outcome for the district. Under the circumstances, as long as both parties agreed, this was the best that could be done.”

The school board voted in closed session July 9 to accept the agreement. Caya’s resignation was announced the same night.

The vote was unanimous, Ardrey said. However, board member Kevin Murray had reservations.

Murray said board members were told Caya had a good work history.

“So my first thought was—because of my personal dealings with alcoholism and my recovery—if this was a good employee … why not try to give the individual some help and not give up on a good employee,” Murray said.

But if the district did not want Caya as an employee, then she should have been let go, Murray said.

Murray worried the payment might set a precedent.

“Don’t get me wrong; consuming alcohol while supervising students—I’m not defending that,” Murray said. “(But) either we help our employees or we let them go, and in this case somehow, there was something negotiated in the middle.”

Steve Sperry, personnel director for the district, declined to discuss some aspects of the agreement, including whether Caya’s husband, Steve Caya, represented her in the drafting of the agreement.

Caya works for the Nowlan & Mouat law firm, which provides legal services to the school district.

Sperry said the district, in this case, was represented by Boardman & Clark of Madison.

Caya also will receive her district group health and dental coverage through Aug. 31, according to the agreement. Sperry said that is standard for anyone who resigned during the 2012-13 school year.

The district will not contest any Unemployment Compensation request, Sperry said.

Caya’s side of the bargain is to hold the district harmless for legal claims arising from her employment. Caya, 50, also agrees to waive any right to reinstatement with the district, and she agrees not to seek employment with the district for five years. She agrees not to seek legal fees from the district.

Sperry would not comment on whether anyone threatened to sue.

Sperry did not know the amount the district spent on legal fees in negotiating the agreement but promised to provide that information later.

No one was injured in the June 6 incident at River’s Edge Bowl, officials said. Caya was never charged with any crime.

Caya taught at Washington Elementary School.

About 120 fourth- and fifth-graders from Washington School arrived at the bowling alley at about 9 a.m. June 6, witnesses told Janesville police. Some time after they arrived, colleagues noticed Caya behaving strangely.

Caya’s husband was called, and he escorted her out of the bowling alley around 10:45 a.m., a witness said.

Caya was treated at the emergency department at Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center, when her blood registered 0.27 percent alcohol at about noon.

No one saw Caya drink alcohol at the bowling alley, which doesn’t serve alcohol during school events. Those interviewed agreed the children were well supervised.

Some witnesses said news reports that Caya had passed out or vomited at the alley were incorrect. That information came from a hospital social worker who heard it from the doctor and/or nurse who attended to Caya, a police report states.

The social worker told police Caya said she drank a bloody Mary at 6 a.m. that day and also was taking Ativan, which is used to treat anxiety and which would amplify the effects of alcohol.

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