LAND O'LAKES — A Seven Springs Middle School teacher accused of belittling students over several years has accepted a demotion instead of the firing that previous superintendent Heather Fiorentino had recommended.
Robert Fine had received warnings as far back as 2008, when he was at Bayonet Point Middle School, to "refrain from using sarcasm and demeaning humor when interacting with your students," according to a letter Fiorentino wrote last fall. He agreed in this latest settlement, approved Tuesday by the School Board, that any more behavior like this would end in his termination.
Fine will transfer to an instructional aide position at Anclote High School, have his pay adjusted to the lower salary, and not receive any compensation for the nearly three months he spent on unpaid suspension.
Employee relations director Kevin Shibley said the acceptance of a penalty less than dismissal did not signal a softening of the administration's philosophy toward misbehaving teachers and staff.
"It's always a give and take," Shibley said. "We're always talking with the employee or the employee's representative. … When we evaluated this situation and what Mr. Fine was willing to accept … we were able to agree on something short of termination."
He said that superintendent Kurt Browning "is going to evaluate each of the cases on a case-by-case basis, just like the previous superintendent."
Fiorentino recommended Fine's firing for repeated instances of making disparaging, sarcastic remarks to students. According to Fiorentino's letter, Fine told a student with hiccups to go into the restroom and look in the mirror to scare them away, and he referred to a student in his class as a "dummy." He called another student by a nickname she found offensive, and cautioned a student arriving late to class against being "re-tardy."
In September 2012, several parents complained about his comments after his open house presentation.
Fine told officials that he was using sarcasm and humor to create a rapport with his students. Fiorentino called his methods an embarrassment and a distraction to the learning environment.
"As this behavior has continued over time, it has become increasingly difficult to keep students registered in your classes, as parent and students quickly lose confidence in your ability to provide meaningful and quality instruction," she wrote in her letter recommending termination.
Fine had appealed Fiorentino's recommendation and had been scheduled to have a hearing before the School Board last week. That hearing was canceled after lawyers for the two sides reached the agreement. The School Board approved Fine's job transfer without comment.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (813) 909-4614, or on Twitter @jeffsolochek.