Manzone abruptly resigns from UCF school board

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Claims board conducts too much business in private, doesn’t share info with all board members

Manzoneresigns

Holly Manzone speaks with reporters immediately following her resignation from the Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education, Monday night.

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.

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31 Comments

  1. really mad says:

    What is needed are board members who serve the citizens and tax payers they were elected to serve instead of themselves and the administrators hired to work for the board members. This is NOT childish he says she says.

    Information is not shared with the public and only with certain board members. Board meetings are orchestrated. This is very disturbing news from a board member who is so frustrated she thought her only alternative was to resign.

  2. Robin Fulton says:

    Enough already! This childish “he says, she says” is not benefiting anyone. Name calling is not going to solve any of this. What is needed is an independent investigation – if there is no deal, then Dr. Manzone is gone and we don’t have to worry about her anymore, if there is a deal – then we remove the non resident children from our schools. This is a ridiculous distraction for an excellent school district, let’s get back to the important job of educating our children.

  3. Scott Kirkland says:

    When flexing your “computer muscles” and making accusations don’t be a coward and use an anonymous name or only use your first name. If you have something to say, post your full name and stand behind what you say, so that everyone can see who you are and judge your credibility for themselves.

  4. UHS Grad says:

    Excellent point, Observing! No public figure has ever denied a real wrongdoing when publically accused! No school official anywhere has ever lied to reporters to cover up a major violation of policy or law.

    • Observing says:

      To which public figure are you referring, Dr. Manzone or Dr. Sanville? Why would you assume that Dr. Manzone is right when the other eight board members and the Superintendent say she’s wrong? Is everything just a huge cover-up rolled into a conspiracy? To what end? What do Keith Knauss, Jeff Hellrung, Vic Dupuis, Eileen Bushelow or any other board member have to gain from such a denial? You make it sound like this is the CIA protecting national secrets not a School Board focused on classwork and extra-curricular activities for kids. Why do you assume the Board members even get along? Do you think Keith Knauss and Greg Lindner are even remotely connected to each other on the political spectrum? Please, let me hear your grand conspiracy theory on how that adds up – I need a good laugh.

      • UHS Grad says:

        It’s not about what they gain from a denial, it’s about what they’d lose with an admission. Keith Knauss has made it clear that his highest priority in response is to protect the board’s reputation, so it’s easy to see why he wouldn’t want to admit to any wrongdoing on the part of the board. If any of Dr. Manzone’s accusations are true it would be a big blow to the reputations or political careers of all the members of the board; it isn’t really that difficult to see why they’d all deny these claims when they have so much to lose by admitting to them. Dr. Manzone would not have made such a public statement about these issues if she didn’t know for sure that they were going on. Why would she subject herself to so much controversy without reason?
        I don’t remember ever suggesting that the board members must all get along. I don’t know where you got that idea. The political beliefs of the individual members of the board are not relevant to this issue. And to suggest that this is just about coursework or extracurriculars makes it seem like you don’t really understand what Dr. Manzone is talking about. Her resignation letter clearly describes her complaints, perhaps you ought to read it. This is about whether or not the board adheres to the proper practices regarding sharing information with board members and with the public. Also, she refers to a deal being made about non-residents attending UCFSD without paying any taxes to the district. That is illegal and an outrage. If that is really going on, I’m glad that it is now being addressed. That is nothing short of theft of who knows how many thousands of dollars in our tax money.

      • UpsetInUCFSD says:

        Just release ALL of the information concerning the “Non-Resident” STEALING from the UCFSD Taxpayers & let us decide!

        I’m certain there are many CPA’s in the district that would be willing to review the financial information FREE of CHARGE for the benefit of ALL the UCFSD TAXPAYERS!

  5. Paul Price says:

    Sorry for my typo.

    Should read …sordid tradition.

  6. Paul Price says:

    As a former UCFSD Board Member I can say unequivocally that Holly Manzone was accurate in her portrayal of school board actions.

    Manyof the decisions are made after private discussions between only some members of the board and not others.

    The reconfiguration of the Elementary schools was givenhe UCFSD Board in a formal presentation after a thorough longterm study. It was not a ‘spur of the moment’ or offhand discussion. Once the news leaked out and parents objected, other Board member as well as then Superintendent Parker, denied the facts about that executive seesion.

    The expensive study of transportation outsourcing concluded that millions of taxpayer dollars could be saved. The Board denied that publicly. Check the original report and the minutes of the meeting and you can confirm that. The study, in its entirety, was never released to the public or the press.

    Taxpayers are still paying for Ms. Parker’s post-retirement healthcare as part of a 4-year contract extention they signed with her. She worked one year into that new agreement, quit yet kept all the benefits as if she had fulfilled the contract.

    When I was set to speak against the terms of this deal former Board member Curt Baker, in un-American style, abruptly adjorned the meeting to prevent me from speaking.

    The ill-advised ‘public domain’ acquisition of the athletic fields ended up costing over 50% more than was originally committed to.

    Board officers have appealed their own property tax assesments at the same time they were voting to raise tax rates on others.

    The list of waste and stonewalling by Board members has a long and sorrid tradition.

    Holly was right.

  7. steve says:

    On Sept 18, you wrote “In praise of having a ‘boring’ school district”, Mike. You “lamented” the lack of drama in the district. Well as the late Richie Ashburn would say, “Oh Brother…”

  8. Vic Dupuis says:

    Friends and Constituents;
    First, let me state in no uncertain terms: There is no secret deal that has been reached with any resident of this district with regards to any residency issues during this School Board’s and this Superintendent’s tenure. Any insinuation to the contrary is a defamatory statement of false facts. I challenge any District Resident, Non-Resident or former Board Member to show evidence to the contrary. We have discussed residency issues, both in executive session (as appropriate when involving a specific individual or family), and in public (as we did Monday night at a Policy Committee meeting prior to the regular Board Meeting). Our district, as have many other districts, pursues issues of residency status through many different means. Our enforcement of residency status has always conformed State Code. No one attends our schools without paying taxes or tuition as prescribed by PA School Code and PA State legal statutes. Our District Policy, as discussed Monday night, states this clearly.
    Second, we still hold every single committee meeting we have always held as a School Board. However, since we have had very sparse attendance from the public at committee meetings, and since we actually heard from concerned citizens that wanted a less complicated schedule of meetings so they can attend more, we changed or schedule. Now, we hold most (not all) of our committee meetings as part of our regular monthly Work Session meetings (2nd Monday of each month). In this fashion we refer to these meetings as a “Committee of the Whole”, which means that each and every Board Member (not just a few in small groups) is invited, in fact expected, to attend. As has been experienced by those who regularly attend these meetings, they can be quite lengthy, but it puts a substantially higher percentage of the District Board’s business in public light because it is fostering higher attendance than we were experiencing when we held separate committee meetings. In fact, one of the only committees we do not do this for is the Curriculum, Education and Technology Committee, formerly chaired by Dr. Manzone. This committee meets immediately prior to the regular monthly Work Session, but typically only garners a majority of Board Members to attend (versus having all at the Work Session) because of scheduling conflicts.
    We can debate from Unionville to California our respective opinions of our award-winning district, past practices of prior Boards as it relates to executive sessions, and whether it’s appropriate that the press received a Board member’s letter of resignation to the Board before the Board even received it. But please, let’s make sure we are having this discussion in the context of factual reality.
    Vic Dupuis, UCFSD Board Member

    • UpsetInUCFSD says:

      RELEASE all the RECORDS pertaining to the NON_Resdient Attending UCF School!

      • Jeff Hollander says:

        UpsetInUCFSD,

        Since you seem to KNOW that something unseemly has occurred in regards to “NON_Resident Attending UCF School” please enlighten us! To expect to have the Board disclose all the details of all “NON_Resident Attending UCF School” is an ignorant request suitable from an anonymous post.

        Vic,
        Well said.

        • UpsetInUCFSD says:

          So, I guess you’re calling Dr Manzone a LIAR Mr Hollander??

          • Observing says:

            According to the interview Dr. Sanville gave Chadds Ford Live, it would appear that the Superintendent himself is calling Dr. Manzone a liar, claiming that there has never been a deal or secret deal at all.

          • Kristin Hoover says:

            The Board and Superintendent have pulled a Bill Clinton maneuver….reminiscent of the “I didn’t have sex with that woman comment.” If the Superintendent and the remaining Board members don’t choose to call it a “deal” then they can justify their denials to themselves and sputter, deny and name call all they want. Other politicians, and I’m thinking Richard Nixon here, denied and denied and then we all remember what happened. Welcome to Tuitiongate!

    • really mad says:

      Now their in circle the wagon, protect their own and blame the victim mode. Stop double talking and release the records. All of them.

  9. UHS Grad says:

    Keith,
    I find it very interesting that your reason for posting a response is to “protect your good reputation” rather than to explain this residency deal that led to Dr. Manzone’s resignation. Isn’t that kind of attitude exactly what she was talking about when her letter said “The administration and Board have become more concerned with looking good than with confronting real issues that need to be addressed.”

  10. UpsetInUCFSD says:

    WOW – As ALWAYS is the CASE, the BOARD gets upset when their “SECRETS” are LEAKED!!

  11. Tammy Everitt says:

    I agree with Keith Knauss’ comment that “the accusations concerning school board conduct” was an unpleasant experience, however, for different reasons. As a tax payer of this school district I demand to have an explanation regarding the agreement reached with Dr. Sanville and the non-resident family who use my tax dollars to educate their child/children. Where is the “right to know” policy here?

  12. Keith Knauss says:

    I had the unpleasant experience of reading Dr. Manzone’s accusations concerning school board conduct in her resignation letter. I find each of her accusations without merit. I’m particularly irritated because she has not previously voiced these accusations in public or to her fellow board members. A detailed and vigorous response will be forthcoming to protect our good reputation and to ensure continuing public trust. I’m unsure whether it will be one response from the school board or individual responses from board members. I’m not sure whether it will be done via a letter to the editor, a news article or at a public meeting to which Dr. Manzone will be invited to attend. But rest assured, there will be a response to these undeserved and baseless accusations.

    One closing comment: To think that 8 people with viewpoints that span the political spectrum could conspire together to, as Dr. Manzone contends, squelch public dissent and open discussion is ludicrous.

    • UpsetInUCFSD says:

      Why don’t you just release all of the “notes” regarding the “DEAL” Dr Manzone referred to in her letter?

    • Kristin Hoover says:

      Your response and those of the other members of the board actually substantiate Dr. Manzone’s case. She asserts that “open discussion is frowned upon and dissent is squelched at both the public and executive session meetings.” The public knows this is true. All you have to do is go to a work session (where there are no meeting minutes) and where the agenda is vague enough to be meaningless to the outside public. Then you go to the School Board meeting and see what and when information gets presented and you fully understand the orchestrated nature of the meetings.

      You claim that Dr. Manzone never shared any of this with the Board and I do suspect that it was quite a shock when she resigned and left. Essentially calling Dr. Manzone a liar, does not make your assertions true that she never brought all of these matters to your attention. I can honestly say from personal experience that it doesn’t matter how many meetings you attend, how many public comments you make or how many e-mails you write, UCFSD will not acknowledge anything that does not fit with their own “never better” idea of itself. I am quite sure that she had to wait for her daughters to finish school before she could take any action as fear of retribution is a very real fear among parents in the District (with good reason). I can personally attest to the fact that I begged the District in meeting after meeting to protect my child from bullying and could never get them to help my child. I believe that I became so vocal that I, myself, became the target of bullying by Dr. Sanville using District resources. When my son was subjected to repeated and unrelenting bullying, he withdrew from interactions with people and then they tried to pin an emotionally disturbed label on him using their special needs resources. He was simply reacting to a terrible situation of daily emotional brutality in a normal way. I believe Dr. Sanville used the resources of the school against us. When you stoop so low as to take it out on a special needs child and his single mother, you get pretty low. Finally, I had no choice, but to take him out of the District. Now he attends a much higher rated school (gold not silver) and is doing great now that he doesn’t have to fear bullies every day from the adults in charge or the other students. UCFSD may think it has “no dirty laundry”, but I contend the piles are so high you can’t see what disturbing things may be hidden underneath. UCFSD will not tolerate parents or members of the board who bring up anything that even suggests a problem.

      Dr. Manzone asserts that the Board complains about community members and I can personally attest to unkind things said about me. She contends that Executive sessions are over-used which Kathy Do herself confirms in this very article. Kathy “cited multiple examples of the board halting conversations in executive session because they were more proper to hold in open session.” Her statement alone reflects an inadequate understanding of the law as either something fits the category or it does not (e.g., personnel matters). This is not something where some things are more or less proper to discuss behind closed doors. What about all the times when they didn’t pull back or how about what was discussed and decided in Executive Session that didn’t get completely transferred to a public session? If the decision is made by the time the public meeting is held, it defeats the purpose of the Sunshine Law. The board had a lesson in the importance of handling executive sessions when the reconfig issue hit the fan. They merrily went along as always. Deny or ignore what doesn’t follow the “never better” script and subtle things like the spirit of the Sunshine Law were lost long ago.

      Dr. Manzone contends that confidentiality is overused. I can personally attest to making freedom of information requests and not getting the information. I made a number of requests regarding a highly exclusionary tax payer funded program that my child could have benefited from attending. I was supposed to believe that the documents didn’t exist which is disturbing in itself as tax dollars were being spent without documentation. I even asked for redacted copies so that they could not hide behind confidentiality and didn’t get them. You are forced to give up as nobody has the kind of time or money for attorneys that it would take to pursue the matter.

      Information is shared unequally as Dr. Manzone suggests. This is true for parents (unless you are one of the “cool” parents) as well as Board members. When Timotha Trigg was Board President, she met with the Superintendent every week and I’m sure that Eileen Bushelow does the same thing. These 1:1 meetings have special advantages and decisions are no doubt made about how/what is shared which is one way of “squelching public dissent and open discussion”. Let’s not forget that the Board itself is wholly dependent on the Superintendent for information so he essentially controls what the Board knows and how much they know about an issue. Keith, you yourself, make the point in your comment as you attempt to vilify the Board member who did not go along that the Board does indeed conduct business behind closed doors or via private communications as asserted by Dr. Manzone. You promise that the Board will respond to Dr. Manzone’s charges, but this will not be done in an open forum. Instead, it will be by agreement and discussion about a course of action and when and if there is any public meeting, it will be carefully orchestrated (as always). I have always known Dr. Manzone to be a person of high principles and your responses only serve to prove her points. The public needs to demand answers.

  13. Kristin Hoover says:

    This is exactly the behavior that Dr. Manzone faulted the Board and Superintendent over in her resignation letter. You blame the person complaining and start to vilify them instead of looking to see what might be done to correct the situation prompting the person to take action. Steve, I am appalled that you compare courageous leadership to a child’s schoolyard, especially when it will result in public shunning by the rest of the Board and Superintendent. This cannot have been an easy decision as I know her to be a brilliant woman with much patience, people skills and ability. Good old Observing, ever the Republican voice, chooses to throw in the red herring distraction over one incident instead of considering that Dr. Manzone is (was) an insider who knows and cares that there has not just been one instance, but a pattern of abuse of the Sunshine Law.

    I cannot understand why you all miss what I consider corruption and illegal behavior that is at the root of the reason she quit. When Dr. Sanville struck some kind of deal with a family who has a long history of sending their children illegally to UCFSD schools when they really live in another district, this seems like stealing from the taxpayers to me. I had to buy a house and live in the District to send my kid there. I paid taxes for twenty years in that District. These people paid NOTHING and got the opportunity to send their kids to the District as a gift. This is wrong. What does it say to the family who has a house that straddles the line with the Coatesville District and even hired a lawyer to beg the District to accept their tuition money and allow their children to be enrolled? They got a glib refusal after a work session I attended where remarks were made about their need to move their house on their property, etc., etc. If a child stole a dollar from another child, there would be disciplinary action. Yet the Superintendent allowed thousands and thousands of dollars of tax money to be spent on educating children who did not live in the District for years and years. Teachers are supposed to understand that times are tough. Bus drivers are supposed to understand that they could be outsourced if they want too much. Kids on an overcrowded bus are supposed to understand that there isn’t enough money to buy a new school bus. Superintendents are supposed to be leaders. UCFSD gets a Superintendent who condones bad behavior and even strikes “a deal” that costs the District tens of thousands of dollars just by one family (who knows how many tax cheats there really are). This is very wrong.

  14. Steve says:

    Leaving the citizens unrepresented seems like an odd thing for an elected representative to do. If there are problems or disagreements she should raise them in public so they can be discussed, not just take her ball and go home. I had been considering Ms. Manzone as an alternative to the Pocopson politboro but now this raises questions in my mind about her fitness and ability to work with others. Leaving aside whether her allegations are true or false, when the going gets tough the tough quit and leave the citizens with no voice? Not exactly what I am looking for in an elected representative.

  15. Observing says:

    Not to get into this too deeply, but the article you link to has a slide from the meeting saying that closing one school was “not viable.” As far as what “many” thought at the time, I’m not aware of who agreed with you but I had perhaps a differing read on the community at the time. I know that the then School Board, (former superintendent) Sharon Parker, Dr. Sanville, solicitor Merrick, and the Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition were of the unanimous opinion that the executive session was perfectly proper.

  16. Observing says:

    Mike: a point of correction, if you please. In 2011, the “controversy” (to the extent it was not a manufactured dispute in advance of an election) had nothing to do with the closure of Chadds Ford Elementary School. The notion at the time, as floated by the administration, was the reconfiguration of elementary schools including, potentially, the idea of having the elementary schools split into K-3 and 3-5. The idea of closing any Elementary School was mentioned in one “discussion paper” as “one of a dozen alternatives” and then IMMEDIATELY discounted as not a passible scenario.

    • Mike McGann says:

      But, according to more than one person in the room at the time, it was discussed in executive session, even if it ultimately was rejected. At the time, many, myself included that such discussion was inappropriate and illegal. Arguably, having the entire K-2/3-5 presentation in executive session was a violation of the Sunshine Act.

    • Kristin Hoover says:

      Mike is correct about this. Chadds Ford Elementary was an item that was discussed inappropriately along with possible reconfiguration. I remember this well and also believed this was illegal. Now we know that this is a pattern.

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