The Laurel School Board followed the law.
It’s a law, though, that frequently fails to serve the public.
Earlier this week, the board voted 5-4 not to renew the contract of Superintendent Len Rich. As with just about all firings handed down by government boards, no official reason was given.
The state’s Sunshine Act permits board members to hide behind the curtain of “personnel issues,” a heading that allows discussions of such matters to be held in executive sessions to which the public is not privy.
The board that retires to executive session must state the topic it will discuss, but need not reveal the details of its deliberations.
Earlier this year, we watched a similar story unfold when the Shenango Area School Board declined to renew the contract of a popular coach. Members there also played the personnel card in declining to state their reasons, even after the coach, who was present at the meeting, presented them with his verbal and written approval for them to do so.
We get that members aren’t staying mum just because they can. There is the no-small-matter of protecting the privacy of the individual being told that his or her services are no longer required.
On the other hand, a board is elected by the public to conduct the public’s business. As it represents the public, does not the public have the right to know why it’s superintendent is being released?
According to “Essentials of School Board Service,” an online document put together by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association as a tool for newly elected board members, boards are required to evaluate the district superintendent annually. A timeframe for the evaluation must be included in the superintendent’s contract, and specific objective performance standards must be spelled out as well.
Following the annual evaluation, the board “is required to post whether or not the superintendent met objective performance standards on the district’s website.”
The most recent evaluation results shown on Laurel’s website at the time of this writing were for the 2016-17 school year. “For the 2016-17 year,” the website shows, “the Board of School Directors rated Mr. Rich as PROFICIENT.”
When a board decides to let go a superintendent who, by its own determination, is proficient at the tasks he has been assigned, it is only natural to wonder why.
Was Rich evaluated for the 2017-18 school year? If so, was a different determination reached?
When a law prohibits the public from getting answers it has a right to know, it’s time to revisit that law.
In the meantime, the Laurel board’s decision apparently can be reviewed 60 days after its issuance. In the early aftermath, it appears that strong feelings exist on both sides of the matter. So perhaps over the course of those two months, some important details will come to light.
For now, we are neither endorsing nor censuring the board’s decision.
We — and others — would just like to know why it was made.