West Jefferson Hills School District begins process to terminate employee
The West Jefferson Hills School District has begun the process to discharge a professional employee.
Thus far, the district has refused to provide the name or details surrounding the motion.
School board members June 25 in a 7-0 vote approved a resolution regarding a “statement of charges” that would provide for the proposed discharge of the employee.
Board members Kimberley Finnerty and Kristin Shoemaker were absent from the meeting.
Neither the motion nor the resolution name the employee.
Per Pennsylvania Public School Code, a school district is required to provide a professional employee with permanent tenure facing dismissal with “a detailed written statement of the charges upon which his or her proposed dismissal is based.”
Solicitor Robert McTiernan after the meeting declined to name the employee, saying the charges had not yet been served to the person. They were to be sent via mail the next day. In doing this, he said, the district is “just trying to respect people’s privacy.”
He declined to comment on what the statement of charges entails, saying it’s a “personnel issue.”
Reached by phone July 1, McTiernan once again declined to provide the name of the employee or the person’s employment status in the district.
The Trib submitted a Right-to-Know request under the state’s Open Records law, seeking the name of the employee and statement of charges June 26.
In its initial response, the district requested additional time allowed by law to gather the information, stating it would provide further response on or before Aug. 2.
In not naming the employee who is the subject of board action prior to the vote, the motion “certainly creates Sunshine Act compliance issues,” said Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel with the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association.
“The Sunshine Act requires agencies to provide an opportunity for the public to give meaningful comment before all official action, before all votes take place,” she said.
“So, if the public doesn’t know who is the subject of the vote — in this case, who is the subject of this resolution — they can’t exercise their right guaranteed them under the Sunshine Act.”
Doing this “cuts the public out of the process and that’s obviously not something school boards should be doing,” she said. “The Sunshine Act guarantees the public’s right to not only witness, but participate in the decision-making process and they can’t do that if they don’t know what’s happening.”
The resolution approved by the board June 25 says “the superintendent has advised the board of school directors that he believes there to be sufficient evidence to support the allegations set forth in the statement of charges” and “the board of school directors has reviewed the statement of charges and considered the superintendent’s determination that there is evidentiary support for the statement of charges and the recommended discharge.”
Pennsylvania Public School Code outlines requirements for a hearing to be conducted on the matter, no sooner than 10 days and no later than 15 days after the written notice.
In the resolution, the board appointed attorney Jordan Strassburger as special counsel for the board at a rate of $225 an hour. His role will be to “assist with conduct of the hearing, evidentiary rulings and preparation of proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law for consideration by the board of school directors,” the resolution states.