Death in family delays arrival of Leechburg Area superintendent
Terence Meehan, who was appointed Leechburg Area School District's superintendent in November, will begin serving the position within four to six weeks, he said.
Meehan tentatively was scheduled to begin serving his five-year contract on Jan. 20. The district hired him three months prior to that. He was given the two-month grace period to fulfill his obligations to the New Castle Area School District, where he has served as assistant to the superintendent for the past eight years.
An illness and subsequent death in Meehan's immediate family this winter derailed the transition process, which he said is now getting back on track.
“This is nothing other than a drastic personal matter that I had to deal with,” said Meehan, 50. “My whole life suddenly changed a little bit and I wanted to resolve any personal matters before I totally committed myself to the new position.”
Meehan said it's too early to provide an exact start date at Leechburg Area. The long-time educator plans on spending time with interim superintendent Frank Prazenica and other district officials before he submits his official resignation to New Castle, he said.
“It's very difficult to make a transition in the middle of the year under any circumstances,” Meehan said. “With the personal matter, it makes the situation even more complex.”
Meehan is not violating the state school code by pushing his start date beyond what was tentatively agreed upon with the district, said Tim Eller, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
“There are no time limits set by the state between appointment and start date,” he said. “Everything is totally negotiable between the school district and the person selected.”
Meehan's contract, which carries a $125,000 annual salary, won't kick in until his start date, according to Leechburg Area Solicitor Robert Cinpinski. Meehan has not yet collected a cent from the district, and Cinpinski said the district has never considered his absence a violation of contract.
Board President Jean Stull said district officials have not pressured Meehan to expedite his transition, even as the district struggles to balance next year's budget. The preliminary spending plan, which the board passed this month, calls for the district's first tax hike in four years to offset rising retirement, health care and transportation costs.
“We're very sympathetic to Mr. Meehan, who is going through a tough time, and we understand his absence,” she said. “We're anxious to get him in here where he belongs when he's ready and help move the district forward.”
Stull said she hopes Meehan will begin serving by the board's March 10 budget workshop, where officials will brainstorm ways to trim its cost-heavy 2014-15 budget. Meehan, however, was noncommittal about the meeting, saying only that he'll start “within a month or six weeks.”
In Meehan's absence, the district is being overseen by interim superintendent Frank Prazenica, who took over in June because of Jim Budzilek's departure. The district is paying Prazenica $400 per day. His term was supposed to expire Jan. 30 to provide a 10-day cushion during the transition to Meehan.
Prazenica said he “enjoys everybody at Leechburg” but is “ready to move on,” despite earning high praise from board members.
“Frank's been amazing through the whole thing,” Stull said. “We were very lucky to have him during this transitional phase.”
District administrators are scheduled to meet Feb. 28 for an early budget workshop. The board's March 10 workshop will be followed by a public meeting on March 13.
Next year's budget could raise taxes by as much as 4.2 percent in Armstrong County and 3.2 percent in West Leechburg, Westmoreland County.
Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or firstname.lastname@example.org.