9 Investigates why it's hard to fire problem teachers

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ORLANDO, Fla. —

9 Investigates discovered hundreds of thousands of local tax dollars are being spent fighting problem teachers, many whom shouldn't be in the classroom.

It's something that most parents probably don't know. Channel 9's Kenneth Craig pored over the expensive legal bills for months and found, in some cases, a single teacher's legal fight has cost taxpayers nearly $200,000.

Lillian Gomez is a former Osceola County special needs teacher. And when Jose Holguin put his autistic twin sons in her classroom, he trusted her -- until she made a decision that cost her job and left taxpayers with a massive bill.

"It changes everything, completely," Holguin told Craig.

Gomez was accused of soaking crayons in hot sauce and then force-feeding them to one of Holguin's children. In the end, the district fired Gomez.

"I find this to be borderline child abuse," said Osceola school board member Jay Wheeler.

But Gomez took her battle to court and the school district hired expensive attorneys to keep her out of its classrooms. Although a judge sided with her, the school district refused to take her back. At last check, the battle has cost taxpayers $120,000.

"When you think about it, you don't even know what to say," Holguin said.

But 9 Investigates discovered the fights put up by seriously disciplined teachers to keep their jobs are racking up bills all over central Florida.

In Seminole County, taxpayers have spent $71,000 since 2011 keeping troubled teachers away from kids. That includes Cydney Abrams, whose tirade on a special needs student was recorded.

"You got me pissed off today. You might be an idiot, but I am not an idiot," Abrams was heard shouting at one student.

Bus driver Howard Moore's fight after he left kids alone on a bus to get breakfast also cost taxpayers thousands.

In Brevard County, band director James Wilkins was eventually cleared of allegations he mistreated and made sexual comments to students, but not before it cost the district $170,000 to fight his case.

"I don't think a lot of people realize that this is going on. That's the sad part," said Apryle Jackson, president of the Osceola County Education Association, the teachers union. She said that kind of money would be better used funding struggling schools or hiring more staff.

But when it comes to his son's safety, Holguin insists there is no fight too expensive.

"Whatever it takes. That's all I can say when it comes to that," Holguin said. "Whatever it takes."

School administrators in Osceola County told Craig the expensive legal costs are worth the money. They use an outside firm to prevent a conflict of interest.

In Seminole County, the district says it's more economical to hire outside specialty attorneys who are experts instead of having several attorneys on staff full time.

District policies allow teachers and other employees to challenge district decisions that pull them out of the classroom for inappropriate behavior.