Wilkinsburg’s woes: Troubled district has a new embarrassment

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Add careless personnel decisions to the long list of chronic problems in the Wilkinsburg School District.

It’s bad enough that academic performance is among the worst in the state, money has been wasted on unnecessary consultants despite a budget deficit and absenteeism is epidemic. The latest revelation is the district's failure to perform due diligence before selecting a candidate to work as its attendance officer.

The position has gone unfilled for 14 months, clearly a factor in the astronomical increase in habitual truancy from 57.4 percent to 76.2 percent in the same time period. When Superintendent Lee McFerren assigned the task to administrator Velma Parker, she said she didn’t want the additional work and promptly filed for stress-related sick leave.

In the face of that obstructionism, Mr. McFerren selected Walter E. Wilson, an employee since January 2013, without delving fully into Mr. Wilson’s criminal past. Yes, he met the minimum conditions necessary to pass an obligatory background check, but the district didn’t ask followup questions that legal experts say are common protocol.

So, until reported by the Post-Gazette’s Mary Niederberger, the district didn’t know that at the time of his hiring, Mr. Wilson was the subject of a protection from abuse order stemming from a simple assault in 2010 on a woman with whom he lived.

Mr. Wilson, who is a parent/​community liaison and Wilkinsburg’s high school basketball coach, is correct in stating that he fulfilled all of his responsibilities in answering questions he was asked and in obtaining state clearance for his work. That doesn’t mean the district was thorough enough initially or that it can’t reconsider giving him the attendance duties.

Until now, a lot of the district’s problems have been laid at the feet of the former superintendent and school board leaders. It’s time for Mr. McFerren, who became superintendent in July, to take ownership of decisions going forward. Every one of them must be made with the mission of doing right by the children of Wilkinsburg.


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