New truant officer to take month's leave in Wilkinsburg

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The attendance officer appointed by the Wilkinsburg school board this week to deal with the high school's 76.2 percent truancy rate has notified the district she is taking a sick leave due to "job-related stress."

Velma Parker, who said upon her appointment Tuesday she would not accept the attendance officer duties, notified the district Thursday she was taking sick days for the next 30 days and may return at the end of March pending a medical evaluation by her doctor.

The district has been without an attendance officer since October 2012, which is the last time truancy citations were filed with the district magistrate.

In recent weeks, the school board has discussed filling the position, but the majority of the board opposed superintendent Lee McFerren's initial plan to assign the attendance duties to the district's home and school visitor because that employee is a member of the teachers union.

Although a motion was on the agenda at Tuesday's meeting to name the home and school visitor as the attendance officer, after an executive session held before the vote, Mr. McFerren changed the motion to give the duties to Ms. Parker. It was a move that upset Ms. Parker and prompted her to say she was not going to accept those duties on top of her other responsibilities.

Ms. Parker, who had been the attendance officer for about eight years before October 2012, is the district's Pennsylvania information management system administrator and homeless liaison. About a third of Wilkinsburg's students are homeless. She was relieved of her attendance officer duties by former superintendent Archie Perrin, who did not name a replacement before he left the district in June.

Mr. McFerren, who took over in July, said all PIMS reports are up to date and that he is familiar with the system and will handle any issues that arise in Ms. Parker's absence.

As for the attendance duties, Mr. McFerren said he hopes to assign them to Walter Eugene Wilson, the district's parent/community liaison. Mr. McFerren said Mr. Wilson has agreed to take on the attendance duties for no extra compensation.

Mr. Wilson's position is funded through the district's Keystones To Opportunity grant, federal money funneled through the state Department of Education.

Phil Martell, the district's business manager and federal programs specialist, said the grant guidelines require that "100 percent of his time is dedicated to the guidelines established by the grant." Those guidelines do not include attendance officer responsibilities.

Mr. Martell said any additional duties "compensated or not would have to be done after hours or there must be a revision to the grant restructuring his salary and benefit package to reflect general fund compensation."

School board President Ed Donovan said if extra compensation is required, he is in favor of approving it.

"We can't have this position vacant. We just can't," he said.

Mary Niederberger: or 412-263-1590.

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