Penn Hills school director resigns, citing board dysfunction
Penn Hills School Director Marlon Ferguson, saying he can’t stand what he called the political games and dysfunction plaguing the school board, is resigning from his seat on the board, effective immediately.
“I don’t feel relieved at all. I feel worse,” Ferguson said Tuesday. “I’m not happy with this decision. I’m profoundly disappointed.”
Ferguson, 53, was elected to the board in 2015. His four-year term was set to expire in 2019.
He submitted a letter of resignation to the district Monday. The board is expected to vote on its formal acceptance June 25.
Ferguson, who sits on the board of directors for the Veterans Research Foundation of Pittsburgh and several other organizations, said the Penn Hills School Board functions unprofessionally.
“It’s just not the way boards should function,” he said. “It’s very political. They’re petty.”
Ferguson said there are some board members who serve for what he called “the right reasons,” but said such organizations take on “the personality of its leadership.”
Ferguson, in his complaints, did not mention any board members by name.
Erin Vecchio, school board president, said she was “disappointed” to hear about Ferguson’s resignation.
“I would never back away from a situation I think I could fix,” she said.
One of the tipping points for Ferguson, the district’s finance committee chairman, was when the board failed to approve its proposed 2018-19 budget on time to meet state requirements.
The board voted 4-3 at its May 21 meeting to approve next school year’s spending plan, but the motion failed because Pennsylvania School Code requires a majority of the entire board to pass a budget. That means Penn Hills needs at least five affirmative votes because there are nine school board members.
Board members Kristopher Wiegand and Denise Graham-Shealey were absent when the budget vote was taken.
Ferguson said there were at least three budget presentations prior to the vote.
“This is not a lower-level issue,” Ferguson said. “This is a top issue. We’re in a budget crisis … As a unit we failed.”
The district had to have a special meeting May 29 to adopt the proposed budget and schedule its formal adoption via special meeting June 30 as a result of that failure because it was unable to meet the 30-day public review requirement for district budgets prior to Penn Hills’ June 25 regular meeting.
“He’s a yes vote on an unbalanced budget,” Vecchio said of Ferguson in response to questions about the meeting. “He brings no solution.”
The proposed 2018-19 budget contains a tax increase, calls for 12 teacher furloughs and has a near $4.4 million shortfall.
District documents estimate next school year’s revenue at $89.26 million and expenses at $93.7 million.
The district is roughly $171 million in debt due largely to construction of a high school and elementary school.
Ferguson pledged to remain involved in the district and encouraged residents to attend board and committee meetings.
“I’m still the eternal optimist,” he said. “I do believe the district is going to pull out of this. Honestly, I don’t know how, but I believe it’s going to happen. There needs to be change. I don’t have an ax to grind with anybody, but there needs to be some honest dialogue with some folks. I think the board needs to do some soul searching and fix this crap.”
Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2367, email@example.com or via Twitter at @MikeJdiVittorio.