Salamanca Principal Exonerated, Reinstated After Five-Year Absence

SALAMANCA – After nearly five years, a decision in an investigation has been handed down in the case of an elementary principal accused of misconduct.

Charles T. “Chuck” Crist will have his record cleared and his position back, after investigators found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Robert J. Breidenstein, district superintendent, said the decision, handed down in a 109-page document, stated that through the facts and evidence presented to the investigators, the district was “unsuccessful in meeting the high burden of just cause for termination.”

After a 90-minute executive session discussion related to the exoneration, members of the Salamanca City Central School Board of Education voted unanimously to bring Crist back to his seat as the head of Seneca Elementary School, now housed in the middle/high school campus. Mary Elizabeth Koch, Seneca School interim principal and curriculum director, will continue to do teacher evaluations.

Breidenstein said he and the board of education “categorically disagree with the decision,” but they will abide by it 100 percent. He continued to say 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 concerns and evidence presented to the school board against Crist.

“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.”

Crist carries the opposite mentality. In a phone interview, Crist said he feels a sense of relief and gratification of what has come from the decision. Though he was guarded in his answers on the matter, as solid guidelines have not been set as to what can be discussed, he said he has yet to actually hear from the school on the decision.

Planning to jump back into his position, Crist said the past five years have been tough.

“It’s obviously been terrifying to be scrutinized in the public eye, even after the decision has been rendered,” he said, referring to the district’s stance. “There are no winners in this and I am glad the proper decision has been rendered.”

A full statement will come from Crist after he is able to return to his job next Tuesday.

All told, Breidenstein said the district has found itself spending $540,000 in what he terms as a flawed process and system, claiming New York state could have found a solution months earlier, but allowed the delay. He said the district has spent $460,000 in legal and forensic investigative resources. It has also paid Koch’s salary in a dual position, serving as the interim principal and as curriculum director for the district. Koch made $111,531 in 2013, according to SeeThroughNY.net. The same site shows that, over the time of his administrative leave, Crist was receiving a salary of $104,892 in 2009. Under contract raises afforded by New York state law, that amount rose to $119,156 in 2013.

With the board and administration not agreeing with the decision made, despite their acceptance with no appeals, Breidenstein said his employees will be expected to abide by the decision and to welcome Crist back, professionally.

“If anyone were to not abide by the decision and act in a professional manner, they will promptly be dealt with,” he said.

Crist, a Salamanca native, played professional football for New York Giants from 1972-74, New Orleans Saints from 1975-77 and the San Francisco 49ers in 1978. He played college basketball at Penn State University. Before taking the assignment in the Seneca School in 2001, Crist was city high school principal, from 1996.