With firing of Wilkinsburg superintendent, board signals new direction

Bob Bauder
| Saturday, March 29, 2014, 5:09 p.m.

The firing of Wilkinsburg School Superintendent Lee McFerren on Friday was a tough financial decision, but necessary to fix the troubled district, the board president said Saturday.

“It's a new day for the Wilkinsburg School District,” President Edward Donovan said. “This is not just changing the superintendent. This is making a serious effort and a serious statement that things aren't going to be the way they were.”

The school board unanimously agreed to place McFerren on administrative leave for 90 days and buy out his contract with one year's salary, $115,000. McFerren could not be reached for comment.

Donna Micheaux, assistant executive director for organizational leadership at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, will serve as substitute superintendent until McFerren's termination date on June 26.

Linda Hippert, executive director of the AIU, said Micheaux will be on special assignment at the Wilkinsburg district for 90 days but still employed and paid by the AIU.

“If the board chooses to continue the relationship, they can explore that. They could also promote her to acting superintendent for up to a year, again, still employed by us,” Hippert said.

The district will pay the intermediate unit up to $45,000 for Micheaux's services. The IU unit also will provide support services, including human resources, technology, budgeting and professional development.

Mayor John A. Thompson said he's heard rumblings about McFerren being “confrontational,” but didn't consider them serious. He said he was surprised to hear of McFerren's termination.

“I had met with him when he came to Wilkinsburg,” Thompson said. “There were some things in the paper, and I just wanted to have a man-to-man conversation with him.”

The Farrell school board in Mercer County fired McFerren in 2008 amid complaints about his performance as high school principal. A state court later said the board acted improperly. McFerren dropped a federal lawsuit against the district after it rehired him as assistant superintendent.

“I spoke with him about it, and his story made sense to me,” Thompson said. “He just said that he had a student that created problems for him and some other people made some things up that weren't true.”

Wilkinsburg signed him to a three-year contract in July.

Donovan said the board with four new members taking seats in December determined McFerren's hiring was a bad move.

Animosity between the superintendent and the board was obvious during a school board meeting on Tuesday, in which two secretaries complained that little was being done to address “personal attacks” in the central offices. McFerren said members also asked him to leave a private board session that he typically would have attended.

“The choice to hire him was made before I came on the board, and the board unanimously voted (Friday) night, even those who voted to bring him in, that was not the right choice,” Donovan said.

He said the district needs improvements in leadership, staff development, student test scores and team building.

Micheaux started as a special education teacher in Pittsburgh Public Schools, where she also served as an administrator. She worked as lead district liaison for the University of Pittsburgh's Institute for Learning and as an administrator specializing in leadership and support services for the Dallas Independent School District in Texas.

“She has impeccable credentials. We're just thrilled to have her,” said school Director Debra Raubenstrauch.

Staff writer Megan Harris contributed to this report. Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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