Teacher fired over ‘kill’ remark nets $427G pay
Boston Herald: The Hub’s top earner in 2012 is a grade school teacher who once said she had the “urge to kill” her boss, comments school officials used to fire her and later, paid for — to the tune of nearly $400,000 in back pay after a judge ruled they had no grounds to boot her.
Teresa D. Underwood topped the city’s payroll last year with $427,522.71, an eye-popping number that dwarfed the next highest earner — Superintendent Carol R. Johnson — by more than $100,000. Former Boston Latin teacher Jonathan Bonds filled out the top three with $318,158 in pay, a figure school officials said was inflated by his own discrimination lawsuit settlement tacked on to his $90,000 base pay.
“They’re obviously unique situations that have to do with court proceedings,” schools spokesman Matthew Wilder said of the whopping payouts. “Sometimes those court proceedings can take a long time, which both of these cases did.”
According to an appeals court decision, Underwood had been fired for claims of “insubordination, conduct unbecoming a teacher and incapacity,” stemming from comments she made to a Faulkner Hospital psychiatrist in September 2007 that she “had the urge to kill” her school’s principal.
It sprang from a verbal altercation the two had on the first day of school at the Curley School in Jamaica Plain during which Underwood became “enraged” over the furniture meted out to her classroom. Feeling “upset,” she checked herself into the hospital’s outpatient clinic, where she spoke to the psychiatrist, according to the decision.
The psychiatrist then reported the comments to police, prompting school officials to put her on paid leave, bar her from the school and later fire her.
Underwood appealed, and an arbitrator, in ruling she shouldn’t have been canned, granted her the award based on back pay. An appeals court in September upheld the findings, writing in a decision that her “statement was plainly intended to threaten no one, and was made during an effort to seek treatment.” “We have no reason to question the arbitrator’s conclusion that Underwood’s behavior did not constitute conduct requiring dismissal,” they wrote.
Underwood yesterday declined comment. Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union said, “That is her money, it was taken from her, and she only got back what she lost. It only came to this because the city denied her employment for 4A years. It wasn’t the teacher’s wish not to work. She wanted to work.”
Wilder said Underwood has taken a “different role” since officials moved to fire her in 2007, and, like Bonds, is still employed in the Boston school system.
Too bad this teacher didn’t practice what she was obliged to enforce. According to their school handbook, students are expected to:
- “Show respect to all community members and school visitors through language, actions, and behaviors. Profanity and offensive language will not be tolerated in the schoolyard or inside or around the building”.
- “Behave responsibly, safely and in a manner that does not compromise safety, instill fear, harass, or threaten community members.”
Stating you have an “urge to kill” sure does go against stated school policies. Yet when you’ve got the school union backing you, different rules apply to those responsible for following/enforcing school policies.