CALEDONIA – Paul Estabrooks has resigned as principal of the Caledonia-Mumford Middle School effective immediately. Under the terms of a separation agreement approved by the district’s board of education, Estabrooks will remain on the district’s payroll through Oct. 12, 2022.
In a letter posted to the district’s website Thursday morning, the board said it agreed to the separation agreement to avoid the formal hearing process afforded Estabrooks as a tenured employee under state education law. Such a process could have worn on for months and resulted in significant attorneys fees and substitute staff costs, the board said.
“While the hearing was pending over several months, by law, Mr. Estabrooks would have been entitled to remain on the district’s payroll and health insurance,” the board wrote. “At the hearing, the district would have been required to call multiple witnesses, including staff members and potentially students.”
The board said it determined it was in the best interests of students, staff and district taxpayers to avoid the uncertainty and “significant financial and human cost” of a hearing and to pursue an agreement that offered a quicker, cheaper resolution that would allow the district and community “to move forward together.”
In addition to remaining on the district’s payroll, the board said Estabrooks will be paid for accrued sick and vacation time, pursuant to Cal-Mum administrators’ collective bargaining agreement, and the equivalent of four months of health insurance premiums.
“Mr. Estabrooks will no longer be on the district’s health insurance as of Oct. 31, 2021,” the board wrote.
The board did not specify on what grounds it would have pursued a hearing with Estabrooks had the two parties not reached a separation agreement. Estabrooks, Superintendent Robert Molisani and Board of Education President John Bickford did not respond to requests for comment.
As the County News previously reported, Molisani announced in late August, before the school year started, that he had reassigned Middle School Principal Estabrooks to duties at the district’s administrative office.
The reassignment followed reporting from the County News that at least three teachers had accused Estabrooks of engaging in acts of harassment, sexual harassment, gender discrimination and retaliation since 2016.
One of the teachers, who has since left the district, filed a federal lawsuit against Estabrooks, the district and Molisani in 2017 accusing Estabrooks of making inappropriate comments about her body and appearance, treating her differently because of her gender and then retaliating against her once she failed to respond favorably to his advances.
While the suit was dropped before a final determination was reached, an investigation into its central allegations conducted by New York’s Division of Human Rights concluded “probable cause” existed to believe Estabrooks and the district “had engaged in unlawful discriminatory practices,” court records show.
The district settled the suit out of court in 2018 for $47,500, less than the $121,571 Estabrooks earned in 2020, according to the government accountability website SeeThroughNY.net.
Multiple Cal-Mum employees told the County News earlier this month that they had not seen Estabrooks at work since the school year started in early September.
Since March 9, 2021, Cal-Mum’s Board of Education voted to approve leaves of absence for at least six different district employees, meeting minutes show, but Estabrooks is not among them.
Speaking inside her home in Victor last week, Estabrooks’s wife, Kirsten Estabrooks, did not respond when asked if her husband has been reporting for work at Cal-Mum the past couple of months, then asked the County News to leave her property.
Board approves agreement
Members of the district’s board of education approved “a written agreement” between Molisani and “an employee of the district” during a special, previously unscheduled meeting Wednesday night. This written agreement and the separation agreement between the district and Estabrooks announced by the board in its letter Thursday morning are, presumably, one in the same, though Molisani did not respond to a request to confirm as much.
The board convened at 6 p.m. and immediately voted to enter into an executive session “to discuss the employment and employee history of particular persons and confidential students records.” Executive sessions are closed to the public. At 6:23 p.m., the board reentered open session, voted unanimously to approve the agreement and then adjourned at 6:26 p.m.
After the meeting, Molisani declined to provide a copy of the agreement. He told the County News to file a request for access to records under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, which allows government bodies to delay the release of public records – sometimes for significant lengths of time.
The County News submitted a freedom information request for the written agreement to Molisani and Jeremy Nardone, the district’s records access officer, at 6:31 p.m. Wednesday. As of this writing, the district had not provided any records in response to the request.