Normally, the removal of an assistant junior high cross country coach doesn’t raise eyebrows. Unless, a school board botches the required public process, which seems to be the case in Danville.
School directors in Danville have some explaining to do after immediately terminating assistant coach Tina Bartholomew during a meeting last week. Board members met in a private executive session, as they can do when discussing personnel matters, before emerging from the session and voting 8-0 to fire the coach.
Other than the board members, some school administrators and the coach herself, few know exactly what led to the termination. There may have been very legitimate reasons.
In this case, the process matters.
The board did not identify the coach in public. The Daily Item filed a Right to Know request for the information with the understanding a person hired and fired in a public forum and paid for with public tax dollars is information that must be made public. The district released the name within two days of the request.
In addition to not identifying the coach, the board did not allow for public comment on the measure before the vote, in part because the matter was not on the original meeting agenda. It was added following the executive session.
Those are problems for the board, the district and the public in Danville. Danville Superintendent Ricki Boyle said she didn’t want to reveal the name because she wanted to talk to the coach first, a conversation that should have happened before the board took action.
The name should have been made public during the meeting; the public should have been permitted to comment. That’s how the process and the law works.
“Name, job title, salary, length of service and demotion or termination are public records under the Right to Know Law,” attorney Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said. “The reason for termination can be withheld, but the fact that the school fired an employee is a public record. Also, the Sunshine Act requires the school to provide a meaningful opportunity for public comment prior to all votes. Obviously, if the school doesn’t announce the name of the employee before the vote, the public can’t possibly give meaningful public comment before the board acts.”
The way this situation was handled leaves a lot to be desired, and likely broke the state’s Sunshine Act, designed to make sure public business is handled for all to see and hear.
It was unfair to members of the public and the coach. In a small town like Danville, there are undoubtedly murmurs going around about what happened and why.
Those doubts could have been erased had the situation been handled as required by law.
We are waiting for answers.
NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.