After holding the top position in the Fox Chapel Area School District for eight years, superintendent Anne E. Stephens said Monday she will retire Dec. 31 -- an announcement that comes at a time when some residents have called into question the doctoral degree that qualified her for the position.
Though not a state mandate, the district requires that its superintendent holds a doctoral degree. Some are upset that Ms. Stephens' Ph.D. in educational administration was conferred by LaSalle University in Mandeville, La., which was not accredited.
The word "accredited" doesn't appear in the district's requirements for a superintendent, though teachers' degrees must be from accredited universities.
In the search for Ms. Stephens' replacement, solicitor Paul J. Giuffre said he expects the board will tighten the language outlining superintendent qualifications. School board member Sherman Snyder agreed.
"As the school board moves forward with the superintendent search process, it is my hope the board considers an addition to the superintendent job requirements to specify the doctor's degree must be awarded from an accredited degree-granting institution," he said.
Board President Joel R. Weinstein said after the meeting that Ms. Stephens had begun discussing her retirement in December.
Ms. Stephens wrote to staff in a May email, "It is important for you to know that at no time did I misrepresent myself during any hiring process or later during my career."
The district conferred with the Allegheny County district attorney's office, which responded in a June 3 letter: "Upon a thorough review of the allegations which were provided to this office, it has been determined that there is an insufficient basis upon which this office can proceed with further criminal investigation or prosecution at this time."
Mr. Weinstein said Ms. Stephens has "exceeded expectations" in each of her annual reviews. He said that further discussion on Ms. Stephens' degree would be detrimental to the district, but there were comments from the audience.
When a man asked the board whether Ms. Stephens has a doctorate, Mr. Weinstein said, "yes," while others in the crowd yelled back, "no."
Toni Uricchio told the board she's frustrated by what she sees as a "dishonor to the field of education."
"I am upset that the school board is using my tax dollars to pay the salary of a superintendent with a diploma mill degree from an unaccredited school," she said, later calling for Ms. Stephens' resignation.
Others told the board that Ms. Stephens was setting a bad example for their children.
"We don't want our children to see someone who hasn't followed the rules get ahead," Patti Weaver, parent and Pittsburgh Tea Party leader, said after the meeting.
But those who stood behind Ms. Stephens said her exceptional leadership can't be denied.
Kathy Eckman told the board that the district's recent accomplishments and awards were not an accident, but rather "only happen under extremely good leadership."
Edward Vargo, who has lived in the district for 16 years, said Ms. Stephens has led Fox Chapel to "groundbreaking achievements" and that the questions about her qualifications come only from a "small number of parents who will not back off."
Lexi Belculfine: email@example.com or 412-263-1878. Twitter: @LexiBelc.