TAMPA — Shawn Livingston, the former Rodgers Middle School assistant principal who lost his job in January after a girl drowned on campus, will receive back pay and benefits through the remainder of his one-year contract with the Hillsborough County school district.
In a 3-2 decision, the school board ruled Tuesday that Livingston would receive back pay and benefits through the rest of his contract, which was technically up in June. Board members Doretha Edgecomb, April Griffin and Susan Valdes voted “yes.” Carol Kurdell and Candy Olson voted “no.”
Livingston, a first-year administrator at Rodgers, lost his job after 11-year-old Jenny Caballero, who had Down syndrome, wandered away from a gym class and drowned in a pond on school property last October.
Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia accused Livingston of incompetence and willful neglect of duty in December, and the school board fired him on her recommendation Jan. 15.
Livingston was given the option to be demoted to a teaching position, but he said that would have precluded him from appealing the charges.
In February, the district decided not to renominate him as assistant principal.
Since the incident, former Rodgers Principal Sharon Tumicki was demoted to assistant principal and is no longer at the school. In addition, the gym teacher retired and five aides have all either retired, resigned or were fired.
On Tuesday, during an employee termination hearing, board members grappled with the issue of whether Livingston responded appropriately and quickly enough to concerns brought by physical education teachers about aides who did not seem to be doing their jobs.
Some said there was no evidence to support the accusations.
“It seems like we are in reactionary mode,” Valdes said. “It’s easy to point fingers. I don’t see willful neglect. I don’t see incompetency.”
Livingston teared up and hugged his wife, Melissa Livingston, after the board decision.
“I waited for this day for a very long time — 10 months exactly,” he said. “I am exonerated.”