Saturday, February 9, 2013

"Wanna Get Away"?

A few years back, Southwest Airlines aired a popular series of commercials. In them, people found themselves in highly embarrassing situations that left them wanting to evaporate and get out of town ASAP. The campaign, dubbed ‘Wanna Get Away?” was very humorous, relatable, and successful. 
What’s going on up at Methacton School District these days easily has the makings of the next installment of that ad campaign.

When last we tuned in (here), the superintendent and a high-ranking administration official were allegedly embroiled in a messy extramarital affair amid allegations of favoritism in the promotions of one of the parties. Last fall, the Methacton School Board appointed special and separate legal and investigative counsel to look into the accusations and report findings and recommendations back to them. Perhaps what’s taking so long for the process to play out is the forensic discovery that must occur to obtain and review phone and email records and to interview any individuals who can corroborate or shed light on the accusations, as well as providing that information to the accused so they can respond.
In the meantime, the accused have apparently not been sitting idly by waiting for the axe to fall. Documents brought to my attention (see below) include a letter dated December 11, 2012 from Diane Barrie, indicating her interest in being hired as the Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development at the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit (MCIU).  

Oddly, a second letter recommending Ms. Barrie for the position, dated November 7, 2012 was purportedly written by Methacton’s Assistant to the Superintendent for Personnel, Robert Harney, to the MCIU, strongly recommending Ms. Barrie for the position almost a full month before she had even expressed a formal, written interest in the job.  I have no idea whether she's been interviewed or an offer extended to her.
Now, let me qualify this information by saying that these letters were provided to me anonymously. I generally know my sources and can vouch for their integrity and the quality of the information. And, regardless of the origination of information that comes my way, I always verify the information from secondary sources. However, in this case, since it involves proposed personnel actions and can neither be spoken about publicly yet nor can documents relevant to the situation be produced, as they are largely exempt from production in response to Right To Know requests, it’s impossible to do so. So, take all this with a grain of salt.  Obviously, someone has an agenda in providing them to me; curiously, they did not provide them to Jeff Cole, the Fox 29 reporter who originally broke the story. I don’t know what that agenda is but I present them for your consideration in arriving at whatever conclusions you may come to.

Is this an attempt by the school board – or, perhaps, by Quinn and his administration, without the school board’s knowledge - to sweep the problem under the figurative rug by attempting to ship Ms. Barrie off to the MCIU? Clearly Quinn could not author such a letter of recommendation himself.  The current school board is largely made up of people who had nothing to do with hiring Quinn, so I’m not sure how much they care whether he stays or goes; any poor judgment he may have exhibited would not necessarily be a reflection on them. They obviously cannot discuss this matter publicly yet because it’s a personnel issue, but my guess is that most if not all of the school board members have no idea that these letters were written and submitted.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my understanding is that the school board has not yet been provided with the findings of the investigation. That may happen this coming week, when I've caught wind that the school board may be holding an executive session. 
I have also learned that Ms. Barrie and Mr. Quinn have already been provided with “Loudermill” requests. Loudermill is a reference to a 1985 landmark Supreme Court decision, Cleveland Board of Ed. V. Loudermill, et al., 470 U.S. 532 (1985). A Loudermill request is a pretermination hearing process that’s part of the framework for investigations of public employees where discipline, especially termination, could be the end result. The Loudermill decision requires that a minimum level of due process be given to public employees before dismissal can even be considered as an option.  The legal theory is a bit more complex than that, but at its basic level, that’s what it means and why it’s done.

The overall process requires that a written statement of findings be provided to the accused, and requesting the individual to formally respond before the entire shebang is presented to the school board for review and possible action. I don’t know how many days the parties were given to respond, as this can vary, but I believe their responses are already back, or will be shortly.

If I had to guess (and I am merely conjecturing here) I think that more likely than not, the parties expect something of substance to be found, actions will be taken, and at least Ms. Barrie will have a safety net to cushion any fall from grace. Harney may have written his letter at Quinn's request, or, perhaps in anticipation of a potential Quinn departure, Harney (who I believe would be next in line to succeed Quinn as the acting/interim superintendent should Quinn be removed from duty), by writing Barrie a recommendation letter is attempting to clear the deck of controversy so he has a clean slate if he takes the helm.

 As for Quinn, if his days at Methacton are numbered, perhaps his only recourse will be to purchase a ticket to someplace Southwest Airlines flies…as the ads famously concluded, he’ll be ‘free to move about the country’.