A majority of McKeesport School Directors is questioning whether the previous board broke the law in giving the Superintendent a new contract.
Pennsylvania law does not allow such contracts to be extended with more than a year left before they expire. Holtzman still had two years left on his contract.
Moreover, three of five school directors who voted to extend Holtzman’s hire were lame ducks. They were stepping down from the board. Voting on this matter early robbed new board members of the chance.
So a month after new board members were sworn in, the board voted 5-4 in January to look into whether Holtzman’s resignation and subsequent rehire are enforceable.
His term at the district located just south of Pittsburgh had been set to expire in 2023 and will now continue until 2026.
In response to the board’s request, school directors received a letter in February from lawyer William C. Andrews stating that the measure could be viewed as circumventing the intent of the school code.
School director Mindy Lundberg read from Andrews letter at the board’s Wednesday meeting:
“…this resignation would arguably not be valid and the acceptance of it could be viewed as an attempt to confer a benefit upon an employee in contravention of the legislature’s intent. Here that benefit is a contract extension beyond the statutory limit.”
Dr. Holtzman responded with a letter from his own legal council, Mark E. Scott.
“We are confident that we will prevail in this issue if ever litigated,” Holtzman read from Scott’s letter. The practice of Superintendents resigning and being immediately rehired is common at other local districts, he said.
However, even if the district proved the new contract was void, Holtzman would return to the previous contract, and the district would be liable for all the Superintendent’s legal fees regardless of the outcome in court, Scott wrote.
For his part, Holtzman says he wants to remain as McKeesport’s Superintendent but is willing to negotiate a way out of his contract with the district if the board wishes to pursue that.
“I will clearly state if they want me to move on, and I’ve said it to them in private, I want a year’s salary and benefits and I will resign tonight. This witch hunt and issue is over, overdone, overstated and we need to move on and once I’m compensated for my attorney fees.”
However, board members were not about to let the matter drop at that.
Both Lundberg and fellow school director James Brown (both of whom were on the board when Holtzman resigned and was rehired) said that they had not been given a copy of his new contract or his letter of resignation before being asked to vote on the matter. That may explain why they did not vote in favor of it.
Lundberg had questions for Joseph Lopretto who had been board President at the 2021 meeting and voted in favor of the new contract.
“Mr. Lopretto, just for the record since you were president… was there a contract presented to the board in the back room to know what we were voting on?” Lundberg asked.
“A Contract was presented. Yes,” Lopretto said.
“No, it was not. It was an outdated contract,” Lundberg responded.
Brown became extremely agitated and stated three times, “There was not a contract presented that night!”
“Nor did we receive a resignation letter,” Lundberg added.
“We never received a resignation letter. I still have not seen a resignation letter,” Brown said.
It is unclear where the board will go from here.
Will school directors seek legal action?
Will they ask Holtzman to resign – for REAL this time?
Will they all be able to move forward together?
Holtzman said the reason the previous board had given him a new contract in the way they did was because he was interviewing at a neighboring district and was eventually offered a Superintendent’s position there.
To keep him at McKeesport, the board needed to offer him more job security and compensation. However, since he still had two years on his current contract, the school code forbade them from just extending it. He needed to resign and then be given a new 5-year contract. Once this was done, he turned down the job at the other district.
According to Holtzman, Scott postulates that the argument against the new contract relies on Holtzman’s resignation being a “sham.” In effect, he didn’t really resign so the new contract was actually a contract extension – which would be illegal this early.
“Obviously we believe that it is not a sham and Dr. Holtzman was fully prepared to move on to the new district,” Scott wrote.
“Clearly the district cannot claim that the resignation was a sham for the purposes of rescinding his current contract but it’s not a sham for the purposes of terminating his employment with the district effectively July 5, 2021.”
In other words, if Holtzman didn’t really resign, then he’s still under the terms of his previous contract.
Scott also took issue with the fact that protests are being made about what the previous board did for Holtzman but not about what that same board did to extend the contract of another district administrator – Assistant Superintendent Dr. Tia Wanzo. She, too, resigned her position and was immediately rehired with a new contract.
However, this was done at another meeting AFTER Dr. Holtzman got a new contract. Cynics might even say it was done for the express purpose of demonstrating that Dr. Holtzman’s resignation and rehire weren’t a solitary case.
It will be interesting to see what the board does to resolve the issue.
VIDEO OF THE MASD REGULAR MEETING:
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