Claims board conducts too much business in private, doesn’t share info with all board members
By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
EAST MARLBOROUGH — Holly Manzone surprised her colleagues and much of the public by abruptly resigning early during Monday night’s Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education meeting, claiming she could no longer support a board that she said conducts too much business in private.
Manzone, a Pocopson resident representing Region B, was slated to complete her term on the board after the Nov. 18 meeting. After a brief discussion of the successful community tree planting at Hillendale Elementary School, she stunned the small crowd, board members and administrators by announcing her immediate departure.
“Our board has eliminated most committee meetings and much of the discussion prior to votes takes place in private conversations among board members,” she said, reading a prepared statement during the board members’ comments section of the meeting. “Information is not shared with the public or among all members of this Board. Without adequate information, I cannot perform the job that I was elected to do.”
With that she announced her resignation immediately, and got up and left the stage at Unionville Elementary School where the meeting took place.
Her formal letter of resignation can be read here.
While she will not perform her duties, her resignation doesn’t take legal effect until the board votes to accept it — not likely to happen before the board’s next formal meeting on Nov. 18. By then, the two new board members (fellow Region B member Jeff Leiser is not running for reelection), it is likely Steven Simonson and Michael Rock, the lone candidates for the two seats, will have been elected and slated to take office in early December. Manzone is also on the ballot in November, seeking a position on the Pocopson Board of Supervisors.
While saying they were sorry to see her go — and praising her work on various initiatives, including class syllabuses for middle and high school classes — other board members disagreed with her assertion that business was being conducted in private.
“I have not seen the problem with things going on behind closed doors,” said Kathleen Do, who then cited multiple examples of the board halting conversations in executive session because they were more proper to hold in open session.
“I don’t believe there are back-door deals going on,” board president Eileen Bushelow said. All seven remaining members acknowledged that there are often one-on-one private discussions between board members on various issues.
Later in the meeting, board member Jeff Hellrung pointed to lengthy discussions about whether or not to approve a contract with a private staffing company to hire some district support personnel which failed to garner enough votes, as evidence that district business is transacted properly and in public view.
“This certainly wasn’t decided behind closed doors,” Hellrung said, who went on to say he was “flabbergasted” by Manzone’s resignation.
Superintendent of Schools John Sanville expressed his thanks to Manzone for her “many years of service” and expressed disappointment that the board might not be able to recognize her next month, and expressed hope that she might be willing to attend the November meeting to be honored.
The board previously came under fire in 2011 for allegedly discussing the potential closure of Chadds Ford Elementary School during a March, 2011 executive session, at a point where a potential reconfiguration of the district’s elementary schools was discussed.
Under 65 Pa.C.S.A. § 708. a public body can only meet in private for six reasons: a personnel matter involving a specific individual, hiring/termination/performance evaluation/promotion/discipline; collective bargaining contract negotiation; to consider the lease or purchase of real estate (a specific transaction, not the decision to seek to buy or sell a property, but rather the details of the transaction of said sale/purchase, including pending offers on specific properties); consulting with an attorney on matters of litigation; to discuss matters that would violate confidentially, i.e. specific student/parent issues; college and university boards can meet in private to discuss academic admission and standing.