SableGate: 10 Questions to Ask the Lebo School Board

There's a Mt. Lebanon School Board meeting this coming Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. in the High School Library. This is a scheduled "reorganization" meeting, and it's in a small space, so the meeting isn't designed for ranting and complaining about SableGate. But the angry citizens of Mt. Lebanon will undoubtedly appear and ask to be heard. If they do, they should remember: The problem here is the secrecy, not the wisdom of the buyout of the ex-Superintendent. Maybe the $500,000 given to Margery Sable was money well spent; maybe it wasn't. Moreover, venting your anger is fine at home, but it doesn't advance the ball at a public meeting. (A suggestion: If people want to keep the fires burning, come up with a blue and gold ribbon or button that everyone can wear to show solidarity with the "no secrecy" issue.)

Instead of venting, ask questions. Make a record, in lawyer-speak. Even if you don't get many answers, the act of asking and getting nothing may be helpful down the road. Here are 10 questions to ask the Board:

1. Is the legal defense of the lawsuit filed by Michele Zappala-Peck being paid with School District funds? I assume that the answer to this question will be yes, but the Board may be unwilling to answer it.

2. Before finalizing her separation agreement with the School District, had Margery Sable made specific allegations of wrongdoing against the District and/or the Board? If so, what were those allegations? I assume that the Board will refuse to answer this question.

3. While she was employed by the School District, was Margery Sable ever notified that she had violated any rule or policy of the School District? If so, what was the nature of the violation? Did Margery Sable bring her conduct into compliance with the rule or policy? I assume that the Board will refuse to answer these questions.

4. Is the current Acting Superintendent a candidate for the position of Superintendent? Are any other current employees of the School District candidates for the position of Superintendent? I assume that the Board will refuse to answer these questions.

5. On behalf of the Board, who negotiated the terms and the timing of the separation agreement? Was a separation agreement discussed with Margery Sable during the summer of 2004, after she was not offered a raise alongside other District admininstrators? I assume that the Board will refuse to answer these questions.

6. Are there any policies or programs initiated by Margery Sable that the School District has decided to (or intends to) suspend or discard? If so, which policies or programs are involved, and why are they being suspended or discarded? I suspect that the Board will refuse to answer these questions.

7. What is the Board's position regarding review of and accountability for classroom performance by individual teachers? Is there a plan to implement any kind of review and accountability? If so, when, and what is the plan? If not, why not?

8. With respect to families of special needs and special education children, is the School District willing to submit to arbitration or mediation disputes over the scope of educational and other services provided by the District? If not, why not?

9. What percentage of the School Disrict's annual budget is spent on salaries of personnel who are neither active teachers nor maintenance/custodial personnel? This information is available (or should be available) in the District's public budget. Notably, however, the "Budget" link on the School District website is dead.

10. Can the Board guarantee that the contract offered to the next Superintendent will be structured so that in the event that the Superintendent does not complete his/her service under the contract, for reasons other than malfeasance by the Board, the Board's financial liability will be limited to compensation actually earned?

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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at]gmail.com. Mike also blogs at Madisonian.net, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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