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A New Castle Area School District teacher accused of stealing money from the teachers' union has lost his job.

The school board at its regular meeting Wednesday voted 8-0-1 to terminate the employment of Charles Farris, 64, a grade school physical education teacher. Farris' firing is the result of criminal charges filed against him Oct. 15 by the Lawrence County District Attorney's Office for the reported theft of $35,887 from the New Castle Federation of Teachers Local 3975, while he was its president.

Board member Robert Lyles abstained from voting for the firing, saying it was because he did not attend a private Loudermill hearing that the district conducted for Farris on Feb. 23.

Farris, himself, opted not to attend the hearing, according to the termination resolution approved by the board at its public meeting. The board took an individual roll-call vote, and those voting for his firing were board president Stacey Fleo and members Pat Amabile, Karen Humphrey, Norman Moses, Mark Panella, Anna Pascarella, Tracy Rankin and Gary Schooley. There was no public discussion about the matter.

A Loudermill hearing is held to provide an employee an opportunity to present his or her side of the story before the employer makes a decision on discipline.

Farris, who had been a teacher with the district for 25 1/2 years, was accused of violating the Pennsylvania School Code, the document said.

The board after the hearing — where documents, testimony and statements of counsel were presented — conducted full impartial and unbiased deliberation in executive session for personnel reasons, and found that the evidence against Farris substantiated the charges and that just and sufficient cause had been established to terminate his employment, according to the resolution.

Farris' criminal charges are six counts of theft and five counts of access device fraud. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. March 31 in Lawrence County Central Court. He was freed at his arraignment on a $50,000 unsecured bond, meaning he must show up for all of his court proceedings or his bond could be revoked and he would have to pay it and go to jail.

According to a criminal complaint filed by district attorney's detectives, Farris had used the teachers union debit card for  personal purchases and expenses, between Jan. 1, 2015 and Sept. 9, 2019. The investigators reported that he had made 300 unauthorized debit purchases from the teacher federation's bank account during that time. Members of the teachers union had reported the theft to the district attorney's office.

Farris' salary at the time of his arrest was $97,512 plus benefits. 

The missing funds came to light when new trustees took over the union board in May of 2019. They reviewed the financial statements and noticed unauthorized transactions from the union's bank accounts, the court papers state. The document shows that they were for such expenses as groceries, restaurants, casinos, professional sporting events, gift cards, hotel rooms, fuel and an oil change for Farris' Mercedes Benz.

The court papers also accuse Farris of receiving a check from the union treasurer for $4,961, without providing legitimate reimbursement documentation that would justify purchases made with it.

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Debbie's been a journalist at the New Castle News since 1978, and covers county government, police and fire, New Castle schools, environment and various other realms. She also writes features, takes photos and video and copy edits.

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