Friday, November 23, 2012

The Young And The Restless

Updated 12/7/12 8:04 am

Fox 29 reporter Jeff Cole filed an update segment earlier this evening (here). The Methacton School Board is next scheduled to meet later today, at 7:30 pm.

It's doubtful that even much-revered Methacton Community Theater could conjure up the kind of drama our school district has been generating in recent months and years, but you can bet that anything for which they produce and sell tickets is a work of fiction.

Unfortunately, truth is often stranger than fiction at our local school district, which serves both Lower Providence and Worcester Townships. Between the news in August that a 43 year old teacher (Sean McCullough) has been having an inappropriate relationship with a 17 year old student, to the prom drinking incident a couple years ago, to the controversy over the need for and costs of the turf fields and lights, to the former school board member going after a resident and/or his camera (depending whose version of that incident you believe) in a public meeting, you have to wonder what the next chapter at Methacton will bring.  

By now you've probably seen or heard about the Fox 29 investigative report (here) about controversial Methacton superintendent Timothy Quinn and their allegations that Quinn and a colleague, former English teacher Diane Barrie, have been conducting an extramarital relationship at work, on taxpayer-paid time, using taxpayer-paid equipment (cellphones, computers etc). The story also mentions pervasive rumours I've been hearing ever since Quinn landed here about past similar behavior during his tenure with at least one and potentially two other school districts, information at least one Worcester resident tried to no avail to bring to the school board's attention at the time. More information is available here.

It's unclear exactly how the story came to light. Did one of the betrayed spouses trip over the digital evidence and make sure it found the light of day, hoping for revenge or to gain leverage in an eventual divorce proceeding? (Since the Fox investigation began, I have confirmed that both couples have filed to dissolve their marriage; the Barries filed in late October of this year). Or did a disgruntled school district employee out the couple? The reporter had copies of emails evidencing intimate conversations between the two, and presumably only a small circle of people would have had access to any place those conversations could have been viewed.  Not that it matters in the grand scheme of things, but the source of the emails could put the allegations into perspective and lend to - or detract from - the credibility of the story. 

While cheating on one's spouse in the workplace is hardly a new phenomenon, neither is sending the occasional personal email from a work account, during the work day, and/or on employer-owned piece of equipment. You can discuss amongst yourselves whether or not evidence of an extramarital affair conducted by publicly paid employees on public time, using publicly paid for equipment, is worthy of scorn, especially when you consider that Quinn is alleged to have conducted himself similarly in past positions. I do know it's not behavior that a number of residents want to see from publicly paid employees during the days when their children and grandchildren are entrusted to their care, and it's certainly nothing that's considered setting a good example for our students to emulate in their adult lives. Arguably, those in public positions should conduct themselves according to a higher standard than most.

I do, however, believe there's a bigger issue here, one that Fox 29 reporter Jeff Cole seems to me to miss taking a deeper dive on, and that is, how and why exactly did Mrs. Barrie get the position she now holds?    

Now, I have met Mrs. Barrie. My son had her for English a few years back and she seems to be a nice lady. However, she has had a rapid and recent rise in title and salary.  She went from K-12 Reading/Title I and K-8 English/ILA Coordinator (after working at Arcola for 14 years as a 7th grade English teacher at Arcola) to being appointed to Acting Coordinator of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment on June 21, 2011 when the school board approved a change of status for her; the promotion was to be effective almost six months later, on December 12, 2011. With the promotion to acting coordinator, she was given an additional stipend of $2,500.

In April of this year, the school board approved a change of status from Acting Coordinator of Curriculum and Instruction to Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, the position she now holds. This promotion was effective June 18, 2012 and carries a salary of $103,500.  

My understanding is that Mrs. Barrie's promotion was intended to be a replacement of sorts for the retirement of assistant superintendent Jane Martin, who retired effective February 17, 2012 (her retirement was accepted at the May 24, 2011 school board meeting).

In this and her 'acting' position, she reports directly to Quinn...and therein lies the rub (no pun intended). Did she receive her promotion because of her apparent personal relationship with Quinn? Were other candidates discriminated against because they did not enjoy a similar relationship? Could this revelation impact the disposition and potential damages paid out in other pending cases against the school district? Methacton has at least one current lawsuit against them alleging discrimination (Lena Sampson v. Methacton School District, filed in July 2011); Ms. Sampson is a former acting principal at Arcola who alleges discrimination and harrassment by Quinn due to a disability (more here); there have been others.

I don't know if Methacton has a policy against their (single) employees dating each other, but in the nonpublic employee world, dating your boss or subordinates is pretty much universally prohibited, if for no other reason than it tends to give rise to sexual harrassment claims. If it's not prohibited outright, it's generally not considered a smart career move for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is what happens when you break up, although a surprising number of people meet their spouses in the workplace. For employees who are married to other people, well, I should think all of this would go without saying.

In the course of my political activities, I hear lots of complaints about Methacton School District in general and Quinn himself has not escaped criticism; I am aware that he's generally not well liked, and sources tell me there are even school board members that are not fond of him or stunts he's pulled recently.

A recent example given was that Quinn decided to appear before Lower Providence's Zoning Hearing Board alone, without counsel and apparently without authorization of the school board, back in June of this year, in case # Z12-02,  to seek variances for a 9' 9"x6' digital sign at Arcola, something that is not advisable given the hurdles one has to overcome to get a variance or other considerations approved and which are best navigated by an attorney. The ZHB denied the superintendent's request, and in September 2012 Quinn, allegedly without school board authorization, had school district counsel file an appeal against the Township in the Court of Common Pleas (docket #2012-24145, filed September 7, 2012). A search of school board minutes didn't turn up anything authorizing counsel to commence any court actions in this matter.

In addition to his apparent pursuit of 'afternoon delight', Quinn has evidently forgotten that he works at the pleasure of the school board, who work at the pleasure of the voters who elected them, and all are ultimately answerable to those voters. Quinn has no business playing footsie on the clock or going rogue on legal matters and should be held accountable, not given pay raises and contract extensions.

Yet inexplicably, in 2010 the school board not only opened up the superintendent's three-year employment contract a year early and handed him a raise, but they also gave him another 2% raise in July of this year. He currently earns approximately $175,000 a year plus benefits and bonus; Ms. Barrie, as I mentioned above, earns $103,500 plus benefits. Not that Mrs. Barrie's behavior is excusable, but she is the subordinate employee here.  

Am I the only one who recalls the fateful and tragic personal relationship in the 1979-1980 timeframe at Upper Merion High School involving principal Jay Smith and teachers William Bradfield and Susan Reinert? Reinert wound up dead, her children have never been found, and Smith and Bradfield did time in the slammer. Books were written and movies were made about the case. If ever there was a textbook cautionary tale against love and romance in an educational institution, that was it.

The next time Methacton wants to hit you up for more tax dollars, think about what these people earn and what they're doing all day, and also consider how much it costs every time the school district incurs legal fees to defend itself when scandals arise (two, count 'em TWO special counsel law firms were hired by Methacton in November to handle whatever legal issues arise from 'affair gate'). My understanding is that normally, the superintendent would investigate the claims and special counsel would represent the school district. In this instance, since the superintendent himself is the subject of the controversy, a second firm must be retained to do the investigation piece. Information from the Methacton School Board's official press release on the matter appears here. 

Are Methacton taxpayers getting their money's worth? It seems to me that the student dress code is the last thing the school board should be concerned with at the moment. 

Start showing up at school board meetings, communicating with your school board, and tell them you prefer drama and scandals be left to thespians, not school administrators and employees who apparently are "acting" the role of professionals instead of taking their responsibilties seriously.   



Michael Siegel said...

absolutely great blog- need to send this to times herald and fox-- you can get the point across extremely well. The super appealing the digital sign is BS- the neighbors across the street would be bothered and is not needed for a middle school- spend the $50,000 on another teacher or on the students

Michael Siegel said...

absolutely great blog- need to send this to times herald and fox-- you can get the point across extremely well. The super appealing the digital sign is BS- the neighbors across the street would be bothered and is not needed for a middle school- spend the $50,000 on another teacher or on the students

Candy said...

The Times Hearld is silent on this, and the Lower Providence Patch, but then again, they have given MSD a free pass on just about everything, including one side articles on SB meetings.