Now that the smoke has cleared, the Philipsburg-Osceola Area school board has some rebuilding to do.
At an acrimonious meeting Monday, some board members ended a long-standing feud with Superintendent Stephen Benson by voting to not renew his contract.
Robert Selfridge and President Steve Switala voted against the motion and resigned afterward.
Both were upset about recent negative evaluations of Benson by board members Mary Ellen Holden, Todd Jeffries, Rebecca Timchack and Jim Verbeck. All except Verbeck gave Benson zeros on every category, adding their own column to a 1 to 5 scale and scathing personal comments. Verbeck recorded an occasional 1.
In his evaluation, Jeffries charged that Benson has no ethics and is not honest. Timchack, the board vice president who will become interim president, wrote that Benson is despicable and disgusting, and that district staff morale had sunk lower than whale vomit.
Selfridge, with Bensons permission, made the evaluations public in protest, calling them not ethical and atrocious.
Board members Linda Bush and Elizabeth Whitehead joined Holden, Jeffries, Timchack and Verbeck in Mondays vote. Board member Brian Soltys was not present, having already submitted his resignation.
Bush had publicly defended Benson before. Despite her vote, Whitehead confronted Holden afterward, calling her colleagues mean.
Switala, who with Bush promoted Benson from assistant superintendent in 2009, said he had been thinking of stepping down as president for a while because he felt his colleagues had an ax to grind with Benson and were ignoring other matters. The evaluations were the last straw.
It was just very inappropriate as a board member evaluating a superintendent, Switala said. If a principal evaluated a teacher that way, there would be grievances filed. Its just not right.
Bensons critics on the board allege he lacked people skills, bullied teachers and staff members, failed to consult with the board and shied from connecting with the community. They paint him as aloof and elitist, citing his decision not to move his family to the district as prime evidence.
Ammunition for their cause may have come from the latest Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exam results. The P-O district failed to meet adequate yearly standards, the state standard for achievement. The high school fell below AYP for the second year, prompting eventual state intervention.
Benson makes $152,060. For what hes created and caused in this little community, as far as Im concerned, his performance was a zero, said Jeffries, who has criticized Benson for focusing too much on college preparation and not enough on technical training.
But Bensons supporters, including Switala, said he was an knowledgeable, engaged leader committed to the future of the districts schools and students.
He believed all students should be successful, and it was up to us the board, the teachers and the administration to provide them with the education so that they could all succeed, Switala said. He really wanted what was best for the kids.
Benson issued a statement about the boards evaluations.
The purpose of an evaluation, of not just the superintendent but any employee, is to provide meaningful feedback so the individual may learn how to improve performance from year to year. An evaluation also allows the employee the opportunity to better understand the expectations of the supervisor, he said.
The value of the feedback I received from those board members was clear and consistent. Their evaluations provided no insight in their vision for the children of this community nor did they provide any direction or expectations for me to help them realize their vision for the students.
Bensons contract expires June 30. He has not indicated his plans, but Jeffries said he wants to hire an assistant superintendent quickly to take over in case Benson decides to use his sick time or vacation time to pull stakes or something to that effect.
That way we can keep rolling without any time lapse, Jeffries said.
District spokeswoman Dena Cipriano said its unclear whether the board will include teachers and staff members in the search for Bensons successor. Other districts, for example, have had open committees, she said.
If the board wants to have those open processes, it would be their decision, Cipriano said.
As for the board vacancies, district solicitor Winifred Jones-Wenger said the board will advertise for applicants once it formally accepts Selfridges and Switalas resignations. Board members represent regions within the district, and the three replacements will come from their predecessors areas and serve at least through December 2013.
Jeffries said he and other board members arent finished yet.
Theres some more cleaning to be done, he said, refusing to name any targeted district administrators.
Switala said hes concerned that the board will recruit like-minded cronies to carry out their agenda at the expense of the districts quality of education. He also worries that the publicity from the evaluations, after what he said was a witch hunt to get Benson, will hamper the districts chances of finding a talented successor.
What kind of quality superintendent is going to want to come into a mess like this? Switala said. That concerns me. I think the school district is going to have a long road ahead of them, given the make up of the board, looking for a superintendent.
Jeffries, who claims residents placed him on the board to get rid of Benson, looks forward to the future.
I want to bring back harmony to P-O, he said. I want to bring back Mountie pride.
So does Switala but from outside the board now.
Its very hurtful, he said of the evaluations and the years turmoil. Im very embarrassed for our community because of what happened.
Chris Rosenblum can be reached at 231-4620. Follow him on Twitter @CRosenblumNews