The board of the Fox Chapel Area School District backed its superintendent at a meeting Monday night, though some residents of the district have questioned the degree qualifying her for the position.
Some in the district are concerned that while Anne E. Stephens has a Ph.D., it's not from an accredited university.
Per Fox Chapel guidelines, the superintendent must have a doctoral degree, board member Sherman Snyder said. This requirement was advertised when the district sought to fill the superintendent's position in 2005. Though that policy does not explicitly call for a degree from an accredited university, Mr. Sherman said, it's a requirement for the teaching staff.
"The degree she has, the Ph.D., comes from a non-accredited school," Mr. Snyder said, "and that creates a double standard between the teaching staff and the administrative staff that I'm not comfortable with."
Ms. Stephens' doctoral degree was conferred by LaSalle University in Mandeville, La., in 1996.
In 1996, the FBI raided LaSalle -- a Christian correspondence college -- and it's founder pleaded guilty to fraud and tax evasion. Over seven years, the school led students to believe it was accredited, issued degrees and netted $36.5 million in the process, according to news accounts at the time.
Ms. Stephens said in an interview Monday that after completing doctoral coursework at West Virginia University and the University of Dayton, she participated in the distance-learning program offered by LaSalle to complete a few classes and her dissertation.
Her dissertation was on the preparedness of school administrators for their roles, she said.
And though she knows LaSalle was not accredited, Ms. Stephens said the word "accredited" never appears in the requirements for a superintendent.
Teachers must have degrees from accredited universities, she said, because they are teaching in a specific area.
She said she has never misrepresented herself or her degree.
"I want people to understand the truth," she said.
"I worked as hard as everyone else to get my degree. It didn't turn out to be the type of school I thought it was."
Two community members expressed concern at Monday's board meeting.
"We teach our children to do the right thing, no matter how painful," Mary O'Sell said.
The district issued a statement saying, "In this particular case, legal counsel has completed an evaluation and has concluded that [Ms. Stephens] held all credentials required to lead education in the Fox Chapel Area School District when the national search was completed in 2005 and those credentials are still in place in 2013."
Board President Joel R. Weinstein said no action would be taken.
Ms. Stephens was hired in October 2005 and was previously superintendent at Brentwood Borough School District. Her contract ends in June 2014.
Lexi Belculfine: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1878. Twitter: @LexiBelc.