The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

March 9, 2013

Pa. investigating more teachers

Misconduct probes doubled last year

HARRISBURG — In January, the state Department of Education Professional Standards and Practice Commission opened an investigation into allegations that Kevin DeFrancesco, a teacher in Jamestown Area School District, had sent explicit text messages to two female students – ages 13 and 14.

In March, the commission suspended DeFrancesco’s license. In November, DeFrancesco, 29, was sentenced to 27 months in prison.

Last July, the state commission opened an investigation into allegations against Michael Zack, a substitute teacher in Northumberland County, accusing him of similar conduct with two girls at Shamokin High School.

A month later, the commission suspended Zack’s teaching license. Zack, 24, was sentenced last month to six months’ house arrest and must register as a Megan’s Law offender.

Shane Putorek, 27, from Cambria County, a music teacher in the Harmony Area School District, was arrested last May on charges alleging he raped a 15-year-old boy. He is awaiting trial. Putorek surrendered his license before the commission needed to take any action, PDE records show.

These are just three of 563 misconduct investigations opened against teachers in Pennsylvania last year, more than double the number reported in each of the prior four years.

Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget includes a plan to increase the cost of a license for a would-be teacher by one-third to cover the cost of hiring staff to deal with the dramatic increase in allegations of teacher misconduct.

The state Department of Education gets about 36,000 new applications for licenses each year – including 21,000 level I certificates for brand-new teachers and 14,000 certificates for level II teachers, who have completed the initial training required for level I teachers, according to Tim Eller, a department spokesman

The Department of Education plans to hire an additional attorney and a law clerk, while the Professional Standards and Practices Commission will also get another attorney and a law clerk, Eller said.

While the allegations of sexual misconduct grab most of the headlines, Eller said there appear to be a number of other factors at play, including the state’s investigation into allegations of widespread cheating by teachers during state standardized tests.

A Pennsylvania State Education Association spokesman said the teachers union frowns on cheating but maintains the Corbett administration has suggested  the problems are more widespread than they actually are.

“Secretary (Ronald) Tomalis seemed to suggest that the scrutiny had contributed to a statewide drop in test scores,” said Wythe Keever of the PSEA. “It is one thing to say that you have evidence that there was cheating involving 100 teachers, but it’s another thing to say thousands across school districts were involved in a conspiracy to inflate test scores.”

There are about 120,000 public school teachers in Pennsylvania.

Even with the dramatic increase in allegations, complaints about teacher misconduct are still less common than similar complaints about licensed professionals in other fields. There are more than 900,000 professionals employed in jobs that require licenses governed by boards overseen by the Department of State, said Ron Ruman, a Department of State spokesman.

Last year, there were 3,790 investigations opened against individuals employed in fields overseen by one of the 28 boards – including professions in such wide-ranging fields as doctors, nurses, dentists, architects, cosmetologists, real estate agents, social workers, car sales people and veterinarians.

In 2012, there was one investigation for every 237 licensed professionals, compared to one complaint per 213 teachers.

1
Text Only
Local News
  • Better security Grant available to boost security in district courts

    County officials are looking to quickly upgrade security systems in the five district judge offices, not due to an increase in risk, but because current systems are antiquated and there is a short window to apply for some financial help with the costs.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Officials split over selling older monitors

    What to do with a pile of older LCD computer monitors, keyboards and mice remains up in the air until the third, and often absent, county commissioner makes a decision.

    July 24, 2014

  • Police anxious to talk with victim

    Sharon police want to talk to a West Hill man about several other men who came to his house shortly before he was shot and critically wounded Tuesday.

    July 24, 2014

  • AED presentation Heart-friendly pool

    The Lackawannock-Shenango-West Middlesex Pool has some pretty obvious changes from when it was opened almost 46 years ago.

    July 24, 2014 4 Photos

  • Sharon man 'stable' after being shot in his West Hill home

    A Sharon man was in stable condition this morning after being shot by one of several men he had let into his West Hill home, police said.

    July 23, 2014

  • GJR killer not eligible for parole, court rules

    State Superior Court on Tuesday reversed a local judge’s decision that the sentence for one of two men who killed a night supervisor at George Junior Republic, Pine Township, was unconstitutional.

    July 23, 2014

  • Duplicated files, former worker confesses

    A Mercer woman accused of stealing customer lists, billing information and other data from her former employer headed off trial Monday by pleading guilty to a charge of unlawful duplication.

    July 23, 2014

  • Starved house Vandals vent their emotions

    Vandals kept police busy Sunday and Monday nights at a home in Greenville where the Mercer County District Attorney’s office said a boy was starved and beaten by his mom.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Couple, another man charged in thefts

    Pennsylvania State Police have filed charges of burglary, theft, receiving stolen property and criminal mischief against an East Palestine, Ohio, couple and another man in connection with two robberies in rural Mercer County.

    July 22, 2014

  • Taking stock Where’s the beef? Bull’s still missing

    Is it possible that an alien abduction took place in the Mercer area last week? A solid red, 2-year-old Watusi bull with 3-foot-long horns has been missing since July 14 with no trace of its existence left on earth.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Buhl Day honorees

    The Buhl Day committee has chosen for this year’s celebration five honored guests whose volunteer work they feel best showcases the legacy of philanthropic work left behind by Frank and Julia Buhl a century ago.

    July 22, 2014

  • GC pair not hurt in accident injuring 2

    Two drivers were taken to a hospital after an accident at the intersection of state routes 965 and 173 in Worth Township, police said.

    July 21, 2014

  • WaterFire crowds WaterFire doused

    Sharon’s WaterFire wasn’t lacking either of its elements on Saturday. There was steady, day-long rain but the day concluded with the Shenango River ablaze.

    July 21, 2014 2 Photos

  • ‘Starved’ boy released from hospital

    A 7-year-old boy allegedly starved and beaten by his mother is out of the hospital and ordered out of his Greenville home by Mercer County Common Pleas President Judge Thomas R. Dobson.

    July 20, 2014

  • WaterFire walking tour Time traveling

    A group of more 50 people walked between the raindrops Saturday during an historical tour of downtown Sharon during the city’s WaterFire celebration.

    July 20, 2014 6 Photos 1 Story