Leechburg Area resumes superintendent search

| Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 7:26 a.m.

The Leechburg Area School Board is again searching for a new superintendent after the recently hired Terence Meehan backed out of the position.

Meehan's resignation last week comes just four months after he accepted the position at an annual salary of $125,000.

He was tentatively expected to begin serving the five-year contract in late January once he finalized a transition from the New Castle Area School District. Meehan has spent the past eight years there overseeing curriculum, federal programs and transportation as assistant to the superintendent.

In early January, Meehan put the transition on hold as he was called to Florida to care for his critically ill mother, who died Jan. 26.

Meehan told the Valley News Dispatch in February that he would begin serving the Leechburg Area superintendent position sometime late March or early April.

But in an email to the Valley News Dispatch late Tuesday, Meehan, 50, wrote that he would remain with New Castle indefinitely, citing the recent turmoil in his personal life as reason to stay.

“After great personal deliberation of my situation following the sudden death of my mother, I gave myself a few weeks to analyze the changes in my life and did not want to hold back the transition process at Leechburg,” he wrote. “I realized that relocating at this time was not an option and the commute was far too intense to manage on a daily basis.”

Meehan went on to explain that he planned to maintain residences in New Castle and the Alle-Kiski Valley, but is now bound to New Castle “following the passing of my mother and the needs that I have to handle family business here.”

He did not elaborate, but concluded with the following statement.

“(The tragedy that my family and I have endured) is genuine, and I must focus on the sudden changes that have been placed on me. It would not be fair for me to relocate and neglect the family responsibilities or the duties of a new position.”

Leechburg Area board members Jean Stull and Kathy Vargo declined to comment on the situation. Other members could not be reached.

Frank Prazenica, the district's interim superintendent, said the board has begun advertising for the position and could make a hire as early as late April. He said the board will review 13 applications received earlier, particularly the top four previous candidates, and accept other applications until April 7.

“The district is trying to move forward as soon as we can,” said Prazenica, who was appointed interim superintendent in July. “They'll be meeting in private in the next couple months here to narrow down their candidates and come to a consensus.”

Solicitor Robert Cinpinski said the board would not look into any potential violations of contract by Meehan's leaving.

“The board is sympathetic to (Meehan's) personal circumstances and we all wish him well,” he said. “The board is fortunate that this is a time of year in which many superintendents are potentially looking to change positions or coming available. That's good because the board not only wants to make a decision soon, but needs to at this time.”

The Leechburg Area School District is in the process of crafting its 2014-15 budget, which could raise property taxes as much as 4.2 percent in its Armstrong County communities and 3.2 percent in West Leechburg, Westmoreland County.

Business Manager Mark Lukacs said next school year's budget is among the most difficult he's had to balance in his career. That's because, he says, retirement, transportation and health care costs are ballooning, while the state withholds its “inadequate” funding figures until the 11th hour, putting the district “in between a rock and a hard place.”

The district's deadline to finalize the 2014-15 budget falls in June.

“Hopefully, we'll have a superintendent by then,” Cinpinski said.

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or bashe@tribweb.com.

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