When Principal Todd Haughey was jailed on a drunken driving charge this month in Pinellas County, it wasn't the first time he found himself in trouble with the law.
The man in charge of guiding nearly 500 students at Advantage Academy of Hillsborough — a charter elementary and middle school in Plant City — has four convictions for drunken driving, according to motor vehicle records in Indiana.
And in April he was taken into protective custody in Pinellas, but not charged with a crime, after deputies found him "extremely intoxicated" while wandering about on a Sunday afternoon in South Pasadena near an apartment complex, according to a sheriff's office report.
The board of directors at Advantage Academy, where he has worked for two years, suspended him for a week after his recent driving-under-the-influence arrest in Pinellas. He was scheduled to return to work this morning at the school, at 350 W. Prosser Drive.
That reinstatement was put on hold after a Tampa Tribune reporter asked officials with the company that runs the charter school about the DUI convictions.
Haughey did not return phone calls or emails seeking comment for this story. But the president of the company that runs the charter school said he has done a good job.
"He's been an excellent school principal," said Mike Strader, president of Charter School Associates, the private company based in Coral Springs that runs the local school.
"Mr. Haughey has been a good leader at the school," Strader said. "The school has shown some great improvement under his leadership."
Strader said he wasn't aware of the four convictions — from 1987 to 2002 — until being told by a reporter.
The job application form for the charter school asks prospective employees whether they have been convicted of a crime in the past seven years. Haughey checked the "no" box because his convictions stretch back longer than seven years ago.
Had he applied for a job with the Hillsborough County school district, he would have been asked whether he ever had been convicted of a crime.
"We may review our application process in light of this," Strader said.
Charter schools are privately run but funded with public dollars. Public school districts often find their hands tied when it comes to charter schools.
Districts oversee student achievement, fiscal management and student health and safety at charter schools. When it comes to hiring people and disciplining troubled employees, school districts have little or no involvement.
"We are very limited in what our authority is," said Jenna Hodgens, charter school supervisor for Hillsborough's school district. "We have a lot of responsibility but very little authority."
Responsibility for hiring and discipline falls to the boards of directors of the charter schools.
None of the Advantage Academy board members — Chairman Nathaniel Grasch or members Patricia Rogers and Charles Harris — responded to phone calls or emails seeking comment on how Haughey came to be hired or on his status with the school.
Strader said charter schools rely on the public school district for background checks for applicants. He could not explain why Haughey's arrest record did not surface, and he blamed the district for the lack of information.
"We followed all of the processes we are supposed to follow," Strader said. "We did what we were supposed to do."
That's not what the district says.
Linda Kipley, the office of professional standards manager for Hillsborough County schools, said district officials came back with a "hit" on Haughey's record in November 2010 before he was hired and alerted the principal at Advantage Academy, where he was applying to be an assistant principal.
Told of Strader's claim that the district failed to tell the charter school what it found, Kipley responded: "That's not true. I have it documented."
She said Haughey's sheet has a red "R" to show that investigators found a criminal record. "At that point, we automatically make the phone call," she said. "So we can clearly say we are passing this on to you; it's your decision what you are going to do with it."
The district, she said, would never hire an educator with four DUIs.
Records from the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles show that Haughey's first conviction for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated was in Ohio in 1987 when he was 19. Those same records show DUI convictions in Indiana in 1990, 1999 and 2002.
In addition, his license has been suspended several times in Indiana — for reasons that include failing an alcohol chemical test to not showing up for a driver safety program — and once in Florida.
The Florida suspension came after the DUI arrest in St. Petersburg this month. In that traffic stop, he refused to take a breath test that could have detected alcohol.
Records indicate Haughey, 44, had been pulled over just before midnight Oct. 5 after he turned into the southbound lanes and headed in the wrong direction on 34th Street North. Haughey told a reporter in an interview a few days after his arrest that he had not been drinking and that he was having a reaction to medication he was taking.
Police said he smelled of alcohol, stumbled and had slurred speech.
That is the condition he was said to be in when found on April 22 by a Pinellas County sheriff's deputy near an apartment building in the southern part of the county after a woman called authorities.
"She advised that he had been stumbling around for several minutes and appeared to be lost," a report states. "She advised that he does not live in the complex, but was concerned that he would stumble into traffic and get hit by a car."
A deputy responded and encountered an "extremely intoxicated" Haughey, according to a report.
"I asked him if he knew what city he was currently in and he said Cocoa Beach," the deputy wrote. "I asked him where he had come from and he said that he was hanging out with friends at a bar up the street. I advised him that he was in a residential area and there were no bars around."
The deputy asked for Haughey's driver's license, and the address on the license showed he lived in St. Petersburg. The deputy asked him whether he lived in St. Petersburg, and Haughey told him yes. When the deputy found an updated address of St. Pete Beach in his computer system, he asked Haughey if he lived there.
Haughey said yes, so the deputy called a cab to take him home. When the cab arrived, the principal gave an address in Tampa instead, where he now lives. The deputy determined Haughey didn't have enough money for cab fare to Tampa, so he took him to jail instead under the Marchman Act, designed to protect someone who may be a danger to himself.
He was not criminally charged in connection with that incident.
Haughey came to the Plant City school as an assistant principal after quitting a similar job in Manatee County in lieu of being fired, school district officials there said. Margi Nanney, a spokeswoman for the district, said Haughey resigned in February 2010 in the wake of an investigation triggered by his contacting an ex-girlfriend after he was told by district officials not to do so.
He has taught at schools in Mississippi and Kentucky as well.
Strader, whose company has been in the charter school business since 1999 and operates 14 schools across Florida, would not comment on whether a background check going back seven years is adequate.
As to what will happen to Haughey, he said that is not his decision.
"It will be up to the board," Strader said. "I suspect the board would review it again and have a different outcome."