Despite impassioned support from parents and students in his favor, the Shenendehowa Central School District Board of Education fired part-time track coach Don Paretta on Tuesday.
More than 200 parents and students attended the meeting in the library of the Gowana Middle School.
Board president Janet Grey and other board members said they had no choice. Paretta’s teaching certification was revoked in 1995 by the state Education Department and he could no longer be a coach in the district. He lost his certification after allegations of sexual impropriety with a 15-year-old.
“We have no flexibility,” said board member Bill Casey. “It’s cut and dried. We have no choice.”
Paretta, who had been a track and field coach in the 9,850-student school district for 14 years, addressed the board, explaining that he was charged in New York City with sexual misconduct in 1992 but the charge was dismissed.
“I never took any plea and was never convicted of anything,” Paretta said.
He said he represented himself at a state Education Department hearing in 1995 and, because of a lack of finances, didn’t hire a lawyer.
“I represented myself at that hearing, which may have been the biggest mistake of my life,” he said.
“No witnesses testified against me, yet I was not able to defend myself and my teaching license was revoked,” Paretta told the meeting.
“At the time I began coaching at Shenendehowa, I did not need a coaching certificate to coach,” he said. “Shenendehowa never notified me that I needed to obtain additional certification and I did not know it was necessary.”
The allegation involved a male student in New York City and the subsequent revocation of Paretta’s certification came to light when a volunteer crime victim’s advocate in Albany recently notified the state police in Clifton Park.
Paretta, 54, who had been paid $5,600 per year by the district, said during his tenure the district’s track and field program “grew to local, state and national prominence.” When he finished his speech, the library erupted in applause.
Students addressing the school board said Paretta was “a class act” who helped the student-athletes both on and off the sports field.
One student-athlete said he had lost his father at a young age and Paretta became a father figure to him.
“He taught me how to drive a car,” the student said. “He cares how his athletes perform on and off the field.”
The students said the picture of Paretta being portrayed in newspaper and television stories is not accurate. “Coach is a caring and genuine person,” the student said.
Douglas Shartrand, a parent, urged the school board to allow Paretta to come back as a volunteer coach.
“Those kids love Don Paretta,” Shartrand said. “He’s an excellent coach.”
As some students, both girls and boys, walked past Paretta they embraced him and wished him luck.
Paretta said that he believed if school Superintendent Oliver Robinson “had taken the time to look into this situation with open eyes, a different outcome would have resulted.”
“Instead, I feel the decision to fire me was made days ago and by press release,” Paretta said.
David A. Ehrlich of Albany, Paretta’s lawyer, said after the school board decision that he would discuss options with Paretta, who remains a part-time track coach at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy.
The school board also adopted the district’s $147.4 million 2009-10 district budget. The new budget, which will go before voters on May 19, is less than a 1 percent increase from the current year’s budget. The estimated average tax rate increase is projected at 1.78 percent, according to district officials.
The new budget will eliminate 46 positions but district officials said most of these will be by retirements and resignations, not by layoffs.