Share This Page

With firing of Wilkinsburg superintendent, board signals new direction

| Saturday, March 29, 2014, 5:09 p.m.
Donna Micheaux, assistant executive director for organizational leadership and development for the Allegheny Intermediate Unite, will serve as substitute superintendent of the Wilkinsburg School District.

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.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.