Scott Bennett may be deluded in believing that school officials and some police officers in the Akron area are conspiring against him. But what the former groundskeeper for the Akron Public Schools has going for him is a court order telling the school board to give him back the job from which he was fired in 2009 — and with back pay. The legal feud between the school board and Bennett has dragged on far too long, proving costly in time and money.
The board fired Bennett, contending that background checks had revealed convictions for assault and telephone harassment he failed to disclose when he was first hired in 2006. The board argues further that the offenses made Bennett “statutorily unemployable” under Ohio’s criminal background-check law, unless Bennett can satisfy the board that he is rehabilitated.
Since 2009, the Akron Civil Service Commission, the Summit County Common Pleas Court and the Ninth District Ohio Court of Appeals all have heard the board’s arguments and rejected them, affirming the commission’s initial order in 2010 to reinstate Bennett with $150,000 in back pay. The Ohio Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
Under those circumstances, the board has been wise to cut its costs. It sent a letter of reinstatement to Bennett last week, loath as it was to do so based on his records. But the board finds itself in a quandary, all the same.
School officials point out that a rehired Bennett still will be subject to a state-mandated criminal background check. Furthermore, the board has no obligation to retain him as an employee until it is satisfied after hearings that he is rehabilitated. Bennett so far has not responded to invitations to appear for rehabilitation hearings.
The board is caught between a legal order to rehire an employee and a state law that renders the employee “unemployable.” Paying that worker would make the district’s treasurer personally liable for misappropriating public funds.
Conceivably, the state auditor could end this episode of the absurd by assuring the treasurer of protection. Such assurance, in writing, is not forthcoming yet. So, short of a resolution, the district appears headed for another round of costly litigation and a hefty payout, which it can ill afford.