Bellefonte school board to vote Tuesday on whether elementary principal will keep her job

jvanderk@centredaily.comSeptember 9, 2013 

— Following a planned executive session Thursday to discuss whether the suspended Bellefonte Elementary School principal should keep her job, it is anticipated the school board will vote Tuesday night on the issue.

Elaine Cutler was suspended without pay at the end of June when she received an unsatisfactory job evaluation. Before that, she was told she could resign, retire or be fired after Superintendent Cheryl Potteiger listed 76 reasons Cutler should leave her position.

The agenda for the board’s regular meeting was not yet available Friday, but board President Becky Rock said Thursday the vote is planned for Tuesday’s regular meeting. The board meets at 7 p.m. in the high school library.

Rock said Thursday she and the rest of the board would not comment about the executive session.

Cutler’s attorney, Amy Marshall, said both she and her client will attend Tuesday’s meeting.

If the board votes to fire Cutler, the first level of appeal is to the state Department of Education.

“There is an appeal planned,” Marshall said Friday. “I think they’re pretty well-aware of that.”

Cutler chose a public due-process hearing, as was her right as a tenured employee, which took place July 10, July 22 and Aug. 2.

“It was our choice to make it public,” Marshall said. “She doesn’t have anything to hide.”

The first session had Orris Knepp, lawyer for the administration, questioning Potteiger on her decision. The second included testimony on Potteiger’s reasons for wanting to dismiss Cutler, including that she didn’t meet deadlines, didn’t follow district protocols and did not effectively communicate with others.

The third session included testimony supporting Cutler’s actions at the school.

Marshall said one charge is that Cutler did not attend an administrative meeting. Marshall argued she did, but was late, due to her handling of a student’s medical emergency. A child had an adverse reaction to a medication and went limp.

“Clearly she didn’t just miss it,” Marshall said.

Marshall said much time was spent discussing what’s called the differentiated supervision plan, the way the district evaluates teachers. Potteiger charged that Cutler did not complete evaluations of her teachers on time and that she did not do enough observations of her teachers.

Marshall said it was true that Cutler didn’t complete teacher observations during the 2011-12 school year, but that, under the plan, that means the teacher had a satisfactory performance. In related testimony, she said former curriculum director Cathy Brachbill confirmed that.

“In 2012-2013, she did them all,” Marshall said, adding that shows Cutler was not persistently negligent. “Everything she was supposed to do under the differentiated supervision plan was completed.”

Cutler also testified Aug. 2, explaining that she did not neglect her responsibilities, Marshall said. She also explained helping her staff with utilization of a program to help the young students develop their vocabulary skills.

Marshall said administrators testified to not having knowledge of how Cutler handled the program.

“My argument was the only thing they were interested in, you wanted her to check a box and submit a form,” Marshall said.

Also submitted into the record that day was a petition with about 100 signatures from parents and other community supporters, asking that the school board not terminate Cutler.

Marshall said she asked administrators, related to each charge, if it rose to the level of job termination. She said the administrators said no, but that all the charges together do so.

“And all of them together don’t,” Marshall said.

Jessica VanderKolk can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @jVanReporter.

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