A divided Chartiers Valley school board has approved a $205,000 settlement agreement with former assistant superintendent Tammy Whitfield, who is now superintendent of the Blairsville-Saltsburg School District in Indiana County.
Board members voted, 5-3, last Thursday to approve the agreement, which will cost the district $110,000. Its insurance carrier, School Claims Service LLP, will pay the balance.
Patti Figorski, Herb Ohliger and Pam Poletti dissented. Jeff Choura was absent. Board President Beth McIntyre voted by speaker phone. None of the dissenters offered explanations for their votes.
Dr. Whitfield, 47, last spring won a federal court injunction for reinstatement just days after she had verbally accepted the job in Indiana County.
Beth Eckenrode of Collier asked why all of the settlement costs were not covered by the insurance carrier, to which solicitor Al Maiello explained that the policy has some exclusions that the district must pick up.
Board member Patti Frey said: "I'm just relieved that it's done. Now we can get back to the business of educating kids."
A 22-year district employee, Dr. Whitfield sued Chartiers Valley in August 2009, three months after school directors had voted, 6-3, to open up her contract. She had been assistant superintendent since fall 2004.
In her lawsuit, she alleged -- in part -- First Amendment retaliation for her November 2006 testimony in a suspension appeal hearing that had been requested by basketball coach and then dean of students Tim McConnell.
The suspension centered on Mr. McConnell's failure to enroll in college classes to obtain teaching certification, which is needed for the dean of students position.
Though School Claims Service filed an appeal to the preliminary injunction, U. S. District Judge David Cercone upheld it, stating the "ability of public employees to petition for redress without fear of retaliation is a cornerstone to peaceful resolution of genuine disputes in our society."
In the preliminary injunction ruling, issued March 31, Judge Cercone found that Dr. Whitfield's testimony was protected speech under the First Amendment.
Dr. Whitfield could not be reached for comment.
Carole Brown, freelance: firstname.lastname@example.org .