State Legislature triples budget for teacher sex investigations

The state Legislature has restored funding to bolster an understaffed investigative unit in the stat

The state Legislature has restored funding to bolster an understaffed investigative unit in the state Education Department to cut into a backlog of hundreds of cases involving teachers and administrators accused of having sex with students.

The unit will be able to hire eight investigators and attorneys to dig into more than 800 pending cases of “moral misconduct” against teachers, administrators and applicants for certification. Most cases involve sex with students.

The state budget adopted Wednesday restores the $500,000 that former Gov. Eliot Spitzer sought to cut from the unit’s funding and added another $600,000 to hire more investigators and attorneys to reduce the backlog, said Senate Education Committee Chairman Stephen Saland, a Poughkeepsie Republican.

“This will move these people out of the classroom environment more quickly,” Saland said. “It’s money well spent. In fact, it’s a bargain.”

The funding will speed prosecution of cases against the certificates of teachers with criminal accusations, according to the education department.

In February, Saland blasted Spitzer from the Senate floor, accusing the governor of calling “open season on children” for sex predators in schools. He read passages from 2007 stories by The Associated Press that showed the number of “moral conduct” accusations against teachers, administrators and aides had doubled in five years. In all, 485 misconduct cases were reported over five years, most involving sexual misconduct.

“This will be fixed,” he said then of the cut made over the objection of Education Commissioner Richard Mills.

The Spitzer administration wanted to cut the funding, saying automation could accomplish the same thing and provide savings against a nearly $5 billion state budget deficit.

The $1.6 million total budget for the unit is up from $1 million last year and triple the $500,000 Spitzer proposed, according to the department. The increase was supported by Gov. David Paterson, who succeeded Spitzer. Spitzer resigned in March after he was implicated in a prostitution scandal.

“Nothing is more important than the safety of our children,” said Johanna Duncan-Poitier, senior deputy commissioner of education. “We want to thank the governor and the Legislature for enhancing our ability to ensure a safe and healthy environment for New York’s schoolchildren.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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