Claims, counterclaims cloud Manzone resignation

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Ex-colleagues detail car chase, she calls board ‘rubber stamp’ for administration

HollyManzone

Former Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board member Holly Manzone speaks following her resignation from the board, Oct. 21. Her resignation and claims about the board’s conduct — as well as counterclaims about her conduct, sparked a special board meeting Monday night.

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
EAST MARLBOROUGH — Depending on who tells the story, it was either a matter of a rogue school board member run amuck, or a school administration that is failing to live up to its responsibilities, keeping information from some board members and cutting dubious deals.

The sudden resignation of Unionville-Chadds Ford School District Board of Education member Holly Manzone last week set off a series of claims and counter claims, leading to a special board meeting, Monday night, where the board formally accepted her resignation. In addition, Manzone issued a nine-page statement prior to the meeting, further detailing her account of the events that led to her resignation. She did not attend the meeting.

While there were a number of issues Manzone alleged from reputed violations of the state Sunshine Act to a failure to properly share documents and other information with all board members, the dispute, which flared just weeks before her term on the board was up, centered around claims that a local family was sending its children to UCFSD schools without still living in the district. She also labelled her colleagues on the board as little more than a “rubber stamp” for the administration.

Manzone’s entire statement and her version of the timeline of events can be read here.

That there was a complaint and an ensuing investigation are about all that Manzone and her former colleagues and the administration seem to agree on.

For her part, Manzone claims that her repeated complaints were ignored and that the district was more concerned about looking good to the outside world, rather than tackling problems.

“What I have seen over the past week has only confirmed what I said,” Manzone said in her statement. “Clearly, the board and district administration are more interested in looking good than in making improvements. I have heard only blanket denials of my claims. I have yet to hear acknowledgement of the possibility for any positive change in any of the areas I mentioned, although I am hopeful that some board members know in their hearts that improvements are needed. Nor have the postings in various online forums given any indication that board members embrace the expression of differing views.”

But board members were much more specific Monday night, telling a story of a rogue board member who ignored state law, the administration and the wishes of her colleagues, all but stalking the family involved in the residency claims during the opening days of the 2013-14 school year. That, they said, ended up in a wild car chase and a warning from State Police to Manzone to leave the family alone.

Board member Jeff Hellrung said Manzone conducted two days of video surveillance at a residence outside of the district and it was the latter that led to the car chase, allegedly involving one of the parents of the students in question, ending at the Avondale State Police Barracks. He called her actions “reckless and irresponsible.”

Hellrung pressed Superintendent of Schools John Sanville over whether he had been contacted by State Police about the incident. After initially demurring — and appearing a bit surprised by the question — Sanville confirmed the call from the State Police.

“Dr. Manzone should not resign in protest, she should resign in shame,” Hellrung said.

As to Manzone’s other claims about the function and culture of the board and administration, her former colleagues disputed that members were treated unequally or that there were any violations of the Sunshine Act.

“I’ve never felt stigmatized or disrespected,” Kathleen Do said. And the former newspaper reporter said she “never attended an executive meeting that I felt was inappropriate.”

Member Keith Knauss did confirm one aspect of Manzone’s claims of “pre-meetings” e-mail exchanges and phone calls.

“There’s nothing unethical about them,” he said, noting the courts have ruled that board members are allowed to discuss issues one-on-one outside of public meetings. He also said that Manzone was entitled, as any board member is, to all public documents. Student and personnel documents are only shared with the board at the discretion of the board as a whole, and in this case, the board voted keep some of the reports related to the residency incident private.

The lone incident, multiple board members said, that was kept quiet related to Manzone’s actions, in part to save her embarrassment, and in part to protect the confidentially of the students involved.

Still, a number of board members called for an independent investigation — in the name of transparency — so the school community as a whole will know what happened when and why.

“We welcome public discussion,” board vice president Victor Dupuis said. “I think this board has proven that with our actions over the last two years.”

Although there were varying degrees of frustration noted by the eight remaining board members — an election Nov. 5 will fill Manzone’s spot in Region B (along with the retiring Jeff Leiser) likely with Steven Simonson and Michael Rock, the lone candidates for the position — some of the reaction was more personal.

“I was hurt, I thought we were friends,” board president Eileen Bushelow said of her former colleague’s actions. She discussed how she and Manzone, both Pocopson residents, worked very closely together when she was appointed to the board in March, 2010, even carpooling to board meeting together for a while.

But Bushelow said she was left in the dark.

“She never expressed these concerns to me.”

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29 Comments

  1. Sean says:

    I disagree with the moderator, as no one was identified in my original post. Be that as it may, having a buisness in the district is not the same as living here. Furthermore, Ms. Manzone had every legal right to sit on a public street to confirm that a family doesn’t live in the district . And the rhetoric about Ms. Manzone being in a car chase is just that . The evidence is clear that this family doesn’t reside here. Therefore, that raises a number of questions. Is there an arrangement with Dr. Sanville that allows these folks to come to school here when then don’t live in our district ? I don’t know the answer but when something looks as strange as this it makes you wonder. If the school board wants to save money, then start by going after those who do not live in our district but go to our schools. And don’t cite case law that has nothing to do with this situation.

    • Mike McGann says:

      C’mon Sean, seriously? You provided enough detail that it was blatantly clear to whom you were referring.

      Aside from the face that the identify is privileged information and should not have been disseminated by any current or former board member (it is a serious breech of ethics), frankly, regardless of what the issues are for the adults involved, it is wrong to stigmatize the children involved. This will not be tolerated here.

      Debate the issue, discuss the public figures involved, but leave the kids and families out of the discussion. Period.

      • TE Resident says:

        Mike, are you referring to Dr. Manzone when you say “identity is privileged and should not have been disseminated by any or former board member?” Do you think that’s what she did? She tried everything to get a resolution and was ignored. I’m wondering if you think she should have just dropped it and gone along at the point she realized the book would be closed on it. This issue had been going on for years and she consistently brought it to the table. She was a lame duck politically so had nothing to lose by bringing it to the citizens. She was guided by her principals and commitment to the tax payer. Is that wrong?

  2. Sean says:

    This post was deleted because it identified the family and the children. This is unacceptable.

    • Observing says:

      Sean: perhaps you know this family and their situation. I don’t know them and will not claim to have inside information. I am basing my observations entirely upon Dr. Manzone’s own narrative of events. Based on her narrative, surveillance was done on the family in 2012 that was “inconclusive.” I assume this means that some nights the children were sleeping at the in-district residence and some nights they were not. I also assume that the family maintains the in-district residence as their place of abode for car registration, voter registration, etc., since Dr. Manzone’s narrative seems to indicate this is true. If, in fact, these kids sleep four nights per week at the in-district residence, then they are allowed to attend UCFSD schools. It may be that Dr. Manzone felt that this issue should be investigated more or that more surveillance should be ordered. I don’t know. I don’t know if the family is lying to Dr. Sanville or swearing false affidavits. Maybe more investigation should be done.
      As to Dr. Manzone “staking out” the family’s residence you and I will have to agree to disagree. While her actions may have not broken any laws, there is a gap between what is appropriate behavior (especially for a public official) and what is illegal. As I stated, her own “surveillance” techniques struck me as “odd” to say the least. Also, if Dr. Manzone persisted in doing this behavior over a long period of time, it could be consider stalking or harassment under the crimes code. In short, just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right.

  3. Judy L says:

    personally to me i am concerned any board member would take time to video and check out peoples homes just to see where kids live and if they should go to school in the district. there are more important things that they should be doing.. I would be pissed if they parked outside of my home and video me and would press any charges i could on them.. if the parents own a home in the district they pay taxes on it there for the kids should be allowed in the school or if they feel the kids shouldnt go to unionville stop taking the tax money

    • really mad says:

      That’s fine Judy, but that’s not what the law states and citizen’s can’t ignore the law when they don’t agree with what it says.

      Clearly, Dr. Manzone was very frustrated and felt ignored by the administration. Perhaps she could have handled it a different way but she didn’t.

  4. NeedHelpInUCFSD says:

    Mr. Knauss – I own property in the Radnor and T/E school districts in addition to UCFSD. I would prefer that my twins attend one of those High Schools next fall. We have lived in this district for 8 years ,filed our tax returns, and voted in this district. How do I “beat the system” and move my kids to one of those better high schools? Thanks for your help!

    • Keith Knauss says:

      Good question.
      .
      The PA Supreme Court gave guidance in the Thane/Cumberland case. The question before the court was, Are the Thane’s residents where tirre family home was or are they residents at the rented apartment in another district?

      “Mrs. Thane would, along with both boys, move from the family home in Chambersburg, Franklin County, to a townhouse in Hampden Township, Cumberland County. …..Mrs. Thane moved the boys’ clothing, furniture, and possessions to the townhouse….. Mrs. Thane, along with Wynn and Lynn, spent Monday through Friday and alternate weekends at the townhouse.   Other weekends and most vacations were spent in Chambersburg.   At the townhouse, Mrs. Thane received mail and phone calls from the school district.   She also paid certain personal taxes to Hampden Township, and changed her voter registration and driver’s license address accordingly.”
      .
      The Supreme Court ruled, “The term [resides] refers to a place where the custodial parent maintains a residence, and, contrary to the board’s view, [b] it need not be a primary residence or domicile[/b]. The record shows that, at that time, Mrs. Thane moved with her two children to the leased townhouse in Cumberland county.   She does not merely visit the townhouse.   Rather, she and the children actually live there.   They stay there during the days and sleep there at night.   Mail and phone calls are received there.   Clothing, books, and supplies are kept there as well.   All of these facts reveal that Mrs. Thane and her two sons live at the townhouse and are, therefore, residents of the Cumberland District.
      .
      So, your children are guaranteed attendance at the district of your choice as long as you do the following actions.
      – move clothing, furniture, and possessions there
      – spend Monday through Friday and alternate weekends there
      – receive mail and phone calls there
      – change voter registration and driver’s license address accordingly
      .
      It is unclear if residency is established if you, for instance, only spend 4 nights there instead of 5, or don’t change your driver’s license, or don’t move clothing there. The lawyers could have a field day with those details.

      • Kristin Hoover says:

        Keith, you must have nearly choked and cut your finger on the smoke and mirrors you threw out in this one. Thane is not relevant and I have previously stated why. My question is WHY did Sanville make the deal/agreement/thing or noun of your choice with the family. What did he or the District get in exchange for the THOUSANDS of DOLLARS that were given away by the taxpayers? People need to ask why! There needs to be an independent investigation here….or the simple thing would be Sanville’s resignation.

      • UpsetInUCFSD says:

        Just tell me/us what the Coatesville SD residents did to get their kids in UCFSD, as I’m sure it was LEGAL!

    • Kristin Hoover says:

      This is simple! Just go ask the Superintendent and the past shows he will help you figure it out! Promise to have your kids sleep 4 nights/week at the business/residence/tool shed or whatever property you have. Once you get a deal/agreement/thing worked out with him, he won’t check and if he does, it will be “inconclusive” so you are home free….I mean educated for free! What is not clear is what it takes to motivate Sanville to your position. We don’t know WHY he changed his mind. You also have another great thing in your favor, you have MONEY which is everything in UCFSD. You will automatically be one of the COOL parents and he is awed by that. Go for it!!!!!!

      • NeedHelpInUCFSD says:

        I don’t want in UCFSD, I WANT OUT!!!

        • Kristin Hoover says:

          Sorry….I have spent years having to hear that UCFSD is such a great school district when I knew it wasn’t from our family experience. Call up and find out what documentation the school district wants to see so that you can have it ready when you visit them to enroll your kid in that District. Some districts want to see things like multiple utility bills with your name on it that match the address, property lease or sale documents, etc.

          • NeedHelpInUCFSD says:

            Thanks! Mr Knauss said above that having your drivers licence, Federal 1040’s, voting registration & the like were meaningless, so I just wanted to be sure!

            BTW- EVERYONE knows T/E SD is MUCH better than UCFSD!!

          • Observing says:

            You seem awfully vested in a School District that doesn’t reach your expectations. Maybe you have an axe to grind? Also, if someone owns a property in the district, like the family in question does, they could produce all of the things you mention. Perhaps the world is more complex then you think.

  5. Tammy Everitt says:

    Dr. Manzone didn’t go rogue she went public on an issue regarding non-residency that needs to be addressed. She brings up an excellent point in her documentation: what happened between July, 2012 & August, 2012 that changed the superintendents position on what constitutes residency? Does he/the Board know for a fact that this family is adhering to the agreement/deal of sleeping four nights at the non-primary “facility”? Where’s the “right to know” on this fact?

  6. UpsetInUCFSD says:

    If Parker was WRONG, she was WRONG – that simple!!

    Demand copies of the Federal Income Tax Returns filed for the years in question, copies of driver’s licenses & voter registration!! Those items will PROVE what is their “Legal Residence”….

    Those items are REQUIRED to get “In State College Tuition”, so why should this be any different!!

    • Keith Knauss says:

      One only needs to read the defining PA Supreme court case to understand that Upset is misinformed. A family can have Federal Income Tax Returns, copies of driver’s licenses & voter registration at one place and still have residency at another place. Try In re RESIDENCE HEARING BEFORE the BOARD OF SCHOOL DIRECTORS, CUMBERLAND VALLEY SCHOOL DISTRICT, T. Toe Thane and Phyu K. Thane. Appeal of Cumberland Valley School District Board of Directors.

      • UpsetInUCFSD says:

        OK Kenny – Tell the UCFSD TAXPAYERS why you & your “BUDDIES” let people STEAL FROM THE DISTRICT!!!

      • Kristin Hoover says:

        The Thane case is not applicable here. This is an intact family who had one parent move to a rented townhouse so that they could get the District to pay for their special needs child to go to a specific school.

  7. Kristin Hoover says:

    Mike is really trying hard with this article to “split the baby in half” so that he doesn’t anger the Board or the Superintendent too much. Last night was all about how much the District liked her until she stopped playing by the unwritten rules of the board (Board Rule #1: make us look good no matter what). It’s clear with the documents released by Dr. Manzone that a deal was made by the Superintendent. He and the board may not call it a DEAL, but if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and swims like a duck, it’s a duck regardless of what you call it. The family clearly thinks they have a deal and even used that word. By focusing on Manzone, the Board and Superintendent don’t answer the questions the public needs to know:
    1) Why did the Superintendent change his mind on residency for this family? I sat through a work session in early 2012 where a Coatesville family hired a lawyer to see if the district would accept tuition money as their house was on property that straddled the District with Coatesville, but the house was actually on the Coatesville side. The Board members who were present made comments to the effect that these people should just pick up their house and move it over the line and how they didn’t want to “open up that can of worms” on tuition. Why is such favoritism being shown to this family and not those in Coatesville? Is it because they are rich? Did Sanville or the District get something in exchange for looking the other way on the tuition?
    2) How much money is involved? This article uses the plural for “student” so if it cost 13-17K per year per child and there are multiple years involved and multiple children, how much money did this deal/agreement/understanding/thing cost the taxpayers? What did it cost the district for multiple surveillance activities? This has to add up to tens of thousands of dollars, at a time when the District claims to be so concerned about fiscal matters. Take note teachers, bus drivers, support staff!
    3) Where was the solicitor in all of this?

    • Observing says:

      In reviewing Dr. Manzone’s “time line” it would appear as though Superintendent Parker told the family (which clearly owns a home in the district and outside the district) that if they had proper documentation, such as a Deed, Tax Bill, Voter Registration, etc., their children could attend the schools even if the UCFSD home was not the primary residence. It also seems clear that Dr. Manzone raised this issue to Dr. Sanville and, within a month, the issue was being actively investigated. After some time, it appears that it was made clear to the family that they were non-residents. The family told Dr. Sanville of what Sharon Parker told them and Dr. Sanville discovered that this was, in fact, what Sharon Parker told them.
      What was Dr. Sanville to do at that point? The prior Superintendent told this family they qualified for residency but the investigation revealed that they did not. The family then said that they would start living full time in the “in district house” since they wanted their kids in UCFSD schools. It appears that the Board “deferred” the issue of going after the family for back school taxes since they relied upon Sharon Parker’s statements.
      After that point, things get fishy. It appears that the family may or may not have been primarily residing in the district. More surveillance was conducted but in was “inconclusive.” Clearly Dr. Manzone, for whatever reason, was so fully vested in this that she decided to “stake out” the family in question to figure out where the kids were sleeping – which I must confess I find rather odd.
      1) It doesn’t appear to me that Dr. Sanville “changed his mind.” It appears to me that the family told him that they were now living the majority of the time in the “in district” home and he could not disprove this fact.
      2) If the concern is about money, what would you have the school district do? Spend thousand to tens-of-thousands on litigation when success is by no means guaranteed as (a) the family owns a home here, pays S.D. taxes and claims residency (b) the schools own investigation/surveillance is “inconclusive” (c) Sharon Parker OK’d their actions before Dr. Sanville took the helm and (d) a School Board Director is specifically being told by the State Police to stay away from the family!
      3) The solicitor HAS been involved. Read Dr. Manzone’s own time line. She clearly indicates that he has been involved.

      • Kristin Hoover says:

        By shifting the blame to Sharon Parker, you think you are taking the heat off of Sanville? He was the one who, regardless of what Parker did or didn’t do, sent the letter that said they were non-residents and they should remove their kids from the District. Then in a couple of months, he suddenly changes his mind and weirdly begins interpreting the school code in a way that is far outside of what the code actually says…these parents are not divorced and do not reside in the District which is the key thing that drives residency. It has nothing to do with where the kids sleep when it comes to intact families! Whether or not something is conclusive is a judgment call. Who made that call? The Board and Superintendent have some explaining to do.

  8. UpsetInUCFSD says:

    WOW – NO Surprise on this one!!

    WHERE are the FACTS concerning the individuals “stealing” money from the district??