Note to Readers: The following is the unedited text of the letter of resignation by Dr. Holly Manzone, who announced her immediate resignation from the Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education, Monday night.
To: Members of the Board of School Directors, UCFSD
John Sanville, Superintendent, UCFSD
Bob Cochran, Secretary, Board of School Directors, UCFSD
It is with regret that I hereby resign from the Board of School Directors of the Unionville-Chadds Ford school district, effective immediately.
As a member of the School Board, I have viewed my role as representing the interests of the constituents who elected me as well as the students of our district. I do not think School Board members should simply rubber-stamp the decisions of the School Administration, but rather should critically examine our district’s policies, practices, and results to identify issues and potential improvements. While I believe UCFSD is an excellent school district, there is clearly room for improvement. In my view, the best way to effect that improvement is to have open and honest discussion, based on facts and data that are unfiltered by administrators or others who wish to influence outcomes of decisions, audits, and performance reviews.
Over the past several months, this kind of discussion has become increasingly difficult and I no longer believe it is possible for me to discharge my duties responsibly and effectively. The administration and Board have become more concerned with looking good than with confronting real issues that need to be addressed. In particular:
- Open discussion is frowned upon and dissent is squelched at both the public and executive meetings.
- Meetings, especially public meetings, are often orchestrated, with many “pre-meetings” and phone calls behind the scenes to prevent genuine public discussion of contentious issues and avoid any embarrassment to the administration or the Board, i.e., “no dirty laundry.”
- Executive sessions are over-used. If there is a way to characterize a topic so that it can be discussed privately in executive session, it is. Engineering topics in this way may allow the district to comply with the letter of the Sunshine Law, but it surely violates its spirit.
- Community members raising issues are often themselves considered the problem. Energy is expended complaining about these individuals rather than focusing on improvement.
- Access to underlying data and original documents is withheld, even if it is not confidential. “Confidentiality” is used as an excuse to withhold access to broad categories of data, without foundation.
- Information is shared unequally, with not all Board members receiving the same background for deliberations. Also, private “votes” are held without canvassing all members.
We have become a model of poor governance. I share the feelings of some Penn State Board members quoted in the Freeh report: issues are filtered, Board members are shown only “rainbows” and not “rusty nails,” and meetings are scripted, with decisions “baked.” I can no longer continue to participate on the Board on this basis without violating my principles and disturbing my conscience. I cannot allow my continued presence on the Board to connote agreement with these practices.
The final straw for me has been a recent situation in which the district administration failed to adequately investigate and pursue a clear violation of our residency requirements, confirmed by investigative reports. Rather than aggressively defend the interests of the district and our taxpayers, the administration dragged their feet for more than two years and ultimately struck a “deal” with the parties—without discussing their actions or the terms of the “deal” with the Board. The Board learned of the deal and its terms only a year after it was struck. The “deal” includes forgoing back tuition payments for the period of non-residency and a pledge not to question district residency in the future. When I asked for the reports underlying this course of action, I was told I could not see them. While this particular instance may be a “done deal,” the refusal to examine it means there is no hope of improvement or change in the future. It is not possible for me to represent the interests of our citizens under these conditions.
It has been my privilege to serve our district for the past four years. I hope that by calling attention to the practices and behaviors outlined above, UCFSD can make the changes in governance that are badly needed to realize the full potential of our students and educators and to become an example of good citizenship for our children.
UCFSD Region B