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Fired West Jefferson Hills superintendent continues challenge

| Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The attorney representing fired West Jefferson Hills Superintendent Terry Kinavey said his client will continue to seek back pay and benefits from the district that removed her from her a leadership position more than three and a half years ago.

While Kinavey, who was fired from the district in 2010, had been seeking reinstatement and money from West Jefferson Hills schools, any decision now likely will come after the end of her initial five year contract — set for June 30, said Uniontown lawyer Ernest DeHaas, who represents Kinavey in her termination appeal in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. That means that if a court were to rule in Kinavey's favor, the terminated superintendent likely would just be entitled to back pay, he said.

Kinavey earned $120,000 during the first year of her five-year contract, with increases built in based on performance.

“Right now, what we're seeking is for her to be paid in the full amount she would have received, had she continued her employment in the district,” DeHaas said.

A remand hearing — or second bout of termination-hearing sessions for Kinavey, held before the school board — concluded on Monday. At that hearing, each of the six board members present was asked to answer 12 “yes” or “no” questions about their involvement in Kinavey's firing and if they had any bias against the superintendent they voted to remove.

Board Vice President Shauna D'Alessandro and board member David Graham recused themselves from voting on Kinavey's termination. Both testified during the remand hearing. Darlene Schreiber was not yet a member of the board during the original termination-hearing sessions.

Kinavey was suspended from West Jefferson Hills after more than 100 residents attended board meetings questioning her actions to remove long-term substitute Denise Breisinger's name from a hiring list.

The board voted to fire Kinavey in September 2010 after testimony and an initial termination hearing that lasted 14 sessions in which district officials presented evidence they said showed that she violated district procedures, as well as plagiarized materials and speeches. Breisinger later was hired for a district teaching position.

Hertzberg later sent Kinavey's termination appeal back before the school board to hear additional testimony.

Seven sessions for the remand hearing were held beginning last October, when additional testimony was offered.

“We had not been provided with relevant information that we had asked for in the initial hearings,” DeHaas said.

The more than 48 hours of testimony in the second round provided no new materials, school district attorney Stacey Vernallis said.

“I attended all six days — I'll submit to the board that there's nothing there that would change anything that was there before,” Vernallis said. “The district has been the victim of a fishing expedition by Mrs. Kinavey and her team.”

Hearing officer Michael Palombo closed the hearing at the end of Monday's session. Both sides now have until June 14 to submit findings of fact and conclusions of law.

Palombo said he needed to discuss the next steps with the board, which met with him in an executive session after Monday's hearing.

Hertzberg did not vacate the board's decision to fire Kinavey.

Once final documents are submitted from both sides, board members must determine how to proceed.

Lawyers from both sides agree that this case has been drawn out longer than most of its kind.

School board members on April 29 approved the hiring of the district's first permanent superintendent, Michael Panza, since Kinavey's firing. He is set to start July 1.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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