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District 200, maintenance worker reach settlement after alleged theft

Published: Monday, Dec. 30, 2013 5:01 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013 12:00 a.m. CDT

WOODSTOCK – A District 200 maintenance employee accused of stealing copper piping took a severance deal to avoid a firing last month, despite an investigation that police say fell short of probable cause.

The District 200 school board, local custodial union and Thomas Harrison reached a deal on Nov. 13 that ended Harrison’s employment and provided him about $9,000 in severance pay over eight weeks.

In exchange, Thomas releases claims and agrees not to sue the district, according to the settlement agreement which was obtained by the Northwest Herald through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Superintendent Ellyn Wrzeski said that after conducting an internal investigation, the school board had prepared to fire Harrison. But the “time and expense of a disciplinary process” made a settlement the more attractive option.

“You have to weigh a risk there,” Wrzeski said. “Our decision was that this settlement agreement made sense for the district.”

The district notified the Woodstock Police Department of the theft on July 11. Police found about 90 pounds of copper from the schools had been sold to Behr Iron and Metal in Woodstock, but the sale couldn’t be traced to an individual, Woodstock Police Deputy Chief John Lieb said.

The general price for scrap copper is about $2.50 a pound.

“We investigated it, we didn’t reach enough for probable cause and we couldn’t pursue the matter as far as making an arrest,” Lieb said.

The investigation is closed barring further evidence, he said.

But after conducting its own investigation, district officials said they believed the available evidence warranted termination, Wrzeski said. She declined to provide specifics about what the investigation turned up.

The burglarized equipment – contained to two district schools, Woodstock North High School and Northwood Middle School – has undergone intermediate repairs. Including labor, replacing the copper will cost an estimated $7,000, Wrzeski said.

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