An Old Acquaintance Is Vindicated

Greg Carlson
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Anyone out there remember Greg Carlson, the former business manager at the Webutuck School District and a resident of Falls Village for many years?

While I was editor of The Millerton News in 1999, Carlson left Webutuck, landing a plum job as assistant superintendent for finance at the Byram Hills Central School District, where IBM’s corporate headquarters are located in Westchester County. With his departure from the tiny and acrimonious Webutuck, Carlson got a huge dose of prestige and a big raise. Seven years later, he found himself suspended (with pay) for a variety of bogus reasons, but I’ve just learned that he was vindicated in June.

I suppose that — in and of itself — wouldn’t be major news. But the Byram Hills school district spent a staggering $1.1 million in an effort to rid itself of Carlson. This includes Carlson’s salary while was suspended, the wages of his replacement for four years, plus $160,000 in legal fees. After all that taxpayer money spent in the futile effort to fire Carlson, Byram Hills was forced to offer him his job back and Carlson strolled back into his office six months ago.

I was initially shocked at the charges, which included insubordination, disloyalty and malfeasance. Turns out the first two charges were based on a telephone call Carlson had placed — taped without his knowledge — in which he made a disparaging remark about the superintendent to an on-leave employee whom Carlson thought had been wronged.

As for malfeasance, the Byram Hills Board of Education found a handful of directives — out of hundreds he’d given over the years — that Carlson had failed to perform or follow up on. In a word, school officials wanted to fire Carlson because he had sided privately with a fellow employee whom they had screwed.

I’m sure some of you will argue that Carlson’s case illustrates the value of labor unions of the sort that represent school administrators such as Carlson. But my reading of Carlson’s case, as presented in The Journal News, is that even without the union he probably would have had a good case for a wrongful termination suit.

The difference is that battling the union — and the protections it provides its members — wound up costing Westchester County taxpayers a lot more than settling a wrongful termination suit for, say, one or two year’s salary.

Instead, the Byram Hills school board paid Carlson to do nothing for four years, paid the wages and benefits for his replacement during that time and provided a gravy train for a pricey Westchester law firm. Moreover, since Carlson returned, they have downgraded his job and kept his replacement on the payroll. So unless and until they can come to some accommodation with Carlson, it looks like they will continue to pay two people to do one job.

While in Millerton, I interviewed Carlson several times and found him to be very professional, articulate and knowledgeable about finance. Before moving out of town a few years ago, Carlson chaired the Falls Village Water Commission. He did not respond to a message from me seeking comment about this episode. Under the circumstances, I can’t say that I blame him.

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