A 37-year-old English teacher at Saratoga Springs High School was fired by the district’s Board of Education Tuesday, following a report from a state hearing officer that the tenured teacher be terminated.
Mark Oppenneer of Wilton had a platonic, but inappropriate, relationship with a then-14-year-old student in 2006 through the summer of 2007, according to a report from hearing officer Dennis J. Campagna of the state Education Department’s tenured teacher hearing unit.
The teacher, who was been on paid suspension for the 2007-08 school year, conducted an extensive computer e-mail relationship with the student and also invited the girl to have lunch with him at Fierro’s Pizza on Route 9N in Greenfield, more than once, and, more than once, met the girl at Uncommon Grounds Coffee Shop on Broadway in Saratoga Springs, the hearing report said.
The two discussed a wide variety of topics, from poetry to their emotions and feelings about each other.
“We are grateful that the due process procedures resulted in termination,” said Janice White, superintendent of the city school district.
“The Board of Education was adamant that the misconduct of Mr. Oppenneer could not be tolerated,” White said in a statement.
“We always seek to ensure a safe and secure environment for all our students,” she said.
Oppenneer continued the relationship with the then ninth-grade girl even after his wife confronted him about what she felt were highly inappropriate e-mails. He even admitted in an e-mail to the girl that “stepping back and seeing the big picture, I can see [his wife’s] point of view.”
The relationship came to a head in late summer of 2007 when the girl’s mother discovered the e-mail and MySpace correspondence and called state police.
Oppenneer was never charged with a crime by police.
The district filed disciplinary charges against the tenured teacher with the state Education Department in September 2007. The hearing officer recommended Oppenneer’s termination in late July.
The school board approved Oppenneer’s firing, effective today. The vote was unanimous and without comment from board members or school officials. Oppenneer did not return a reporter’s phone call for his comments on the case.
The board also adopted the district’s tax levy for the 2008-09 school year of $69 million, a 3.9 percent or $2.6 million increase from this school year’s levy.
Kurt Jaeger, assistant superintendent for business, said the final tax rate increase of 3.6 percent in Saratoga Springs to $13.96 per $1,000 of assessed valuation is very close to what he projected back in May when district voters approved the new district budget.
The owner of a home assessed at $246,897 in the city will pay an additional $118.81 in school taxes in the 2008-09 school year, he said.
The district also released tax rates for the parts of Greenfield, Wilton, Malta, Milton and the town of Saratoga in the enlarged district.
In the cases of Wilton, Greenfield and Malta the tax rates went down because those towns conducted property revaluations this year.
The tax rate in Wilton went from $15.71 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $10.88 per $1,000. In Greenfield the tax rate went from $11.29 per $1,000 this school year to $10.99 next school year. The small part of Malta in the district will see its tax rate drop from $14.19 this school year to $10.80 in the 2008-09 school year.
School board members praised Jaeger’s accuracy in predicting the tax levy and tax rate increases this spring when final property assessment numbers were not available.