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