by Donna Winchester, St. Peters Times Staff Writer

The Pinellas School Board agreed Tuesday to pay $131,500 to a former elementary school teacher who successfully defended himself on charges that he sexually abused two second-graders.

The board will pay Mark C. Fronczak a portion of the legal fees he incurred in his 2005 criminal trial, where he faced charges of capital sexual battery and lewd and lascivious molestation of two children at Southern Oak Elementary School. In exchange, Fronczak will waive his right to appeal the board’s decision to fire him and will agree not to apply for future employment in the district.

“I think it was a reasonable resolution of a long conflict,” said School Board attorney Jim Robinson. “It assures that as far as we’re concerned, the relationship is irreversibly severed.”

Board member Linda Lerner, who in October voted against firing Fronczak, said the agreement to partially reimburse him was the only clear-cut element in a protracted three-year battle.

“This was not a difficult decision,” Lerner said. “He was found not guilty of the charges in court, so this was what we had to do legally.”

Under Florida law, school districts must reimburse legal costs for employees who successfully defend lawsuits or criminal charges that arise in the course of their jobs. Fronczak – who lost his house, pawned his belongings and sold his cars since his arrest – originally asked the district for $200,000.

He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Had the board not agreed to the settlement, the district could have been liable for additional costs, Robinson said.

“We were faced with the prospect of hiring criminal defense lawyers to review the billings and determine how reasonable his claim was,” Robinson said. “If he were to be rehired upon appeal, it would be at considerable expense to the board for back pay.”

The case against Fronczak began in December 2003 when two second-graders in his music class at Southern Oak alleged that he touched them inappropriately. The Sheriff’s Office launched an investigation that resulted in his arrest in April 2004.

Pinellas school administrators placed Fronczak, a district employee for 18 years, on paid administrative leave. Two months later, they recommended he be fired.

Fronczak assumed the district would give him his job back after a jury acquitted him in July 2005. Instead, the district began pushing for his dismissal, alleging that “something inappropriate” had occurred in his classroom.

The matter came before the School Board again after a state administrative law judge heard the same evidence presented at Fronczak’s trial but determined he had not observed “appropriate (physical) boundaries” while interacting with the girls.

The board voted 3-2 to fire Fronczak on Oct. 24.

Lerner said Tuesday’s resolution, while appropriate, also was somewhat sad.

“I certainly hope Mr. Fronczak can go on with his life and find other productive things to do,” she said. This guys life is over. What is he going to do? I pray for him.