Released emails shed new light on York Suburban superintendent’s departure

Jason Addy
York Dispatch

Newly released emails between York Suburban School District officials appear to show a coordinated effort to clamp down on information about the former superintendent’s sudden departure in September.

They also suggest the board and the one-time top administrator did not part on good terms.

On Sept. 14, then-Superintendent Michele Merkle began what district officials later described as a medical leave of absence, although that information was not revealed until more than a week later.

Former York Suburban Superintendent Michele Merkle.

That same day, district finance director Corinne Mason addressed an email to board President Lynne Leopold-Sharp and other board members, telling them not to say anything about the matter to other district staffers.

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“There has been the question raised (of) what goes out to the staff,” Mason wrote at 3:08 p.m. “NOTHING goes out to the staff at this time. If you are asked anything regarding Dr. Merkle, ‘Dr. Merkle is out on medical leave.’”

Mason is also the district’s Right-to-Know Law officer.

Merkle officially resigned from her $186,000-per-year position on Sept. 25, 11 days after going on medical leave and two weeks after Spring Garden Township Police were called to the school for a criminal mischief report following a Sept. 11 school board meeting. 

‘Particularly difficult email’: Merkle reached out to board members the morning after her resignation, according to another email, in which she suggests her overture would not be welcome.

“This is a particularly difficult email to send as I am sure that any communication from me is met with skepticism,” her Sept. 26 email to Leopold-Sharp and board members Cathy Shaffer and John Posenau began. 

The next two lines of the email were redacted in the copy released Friday by the district. 

In her email, Merkle highlighted “strategic thoughts” about enrollment, revenue goals, budget goals, schedules and board membership, as well as a sixth thought that was redacted by the district. 

“For 27 years, you have respected my thoughts, opinions and my vision,” she wrote.

The next three lines of the email are redacted, before Merkle requests a brief meeting with the three board members.

“I realize this is an unusual request, [redacted]. My commitment to the District has always been a bit out of the ordinary, however, and this is the real me. Please give my request careful consideration. That is all I can ask,” she wrote.

Leopold-Sharp directed questions about the emails to Mason on Friday, Nov. 17. Mason and the eight other board members did not respond to emails seeking comment, and Merkle could not be reached for comment.

'Criminal investigation': For nearly two months, York Suburban School District officials and police have refused to explain why police were called to the high school the night of Sept. 11.

The school board had held a 7 p.m. planning committee meeting that night at the administration building, which is on the same property as the high school at 1800 Hollywood Drive. The meeting adjourned at 8:01 p.m., according to meeting minutes on the district's website.

Only after The York Dispatch filed a Right-To-Know Law request did the Spring Garden Township Police Department confirm an officer was dispatched to York Suburban High School at 9:30 p.m. Sept. 11 for a report of criminal mischief.

The York Dispatch also submitted Right-to-Know requests to the school district, including one seeking video footage of a district-owned parking lot after that night’s board meeting.

On Oct. 31, Mason denied the request, in part, because the request relates “to an ongoing criminal investigation” and because it relates to “a former District employee and comprises confidential information contained in the former employee’s personnel file.”

Public statement: District officials did not acknowledge Merkle’s departure until Sept. 22 when The York Dispatch asked for confirmation.

The district did not notify parents until Sept. 24 — 10 days after the superintendent took a leave of absence.

In that statement, Leopold-Sharp noted the school board and administrators feel it is important “that we provide updates in a timely manner to the publics we serve.” 

While officials were silent, the district was without its top two administrators, as former Assistant Superintendent Patricia Maloney’s pre-planned retirement took effect Sept. 15.

On Oct. 9, the school board voted to hire Larry R. Redding, a former superintendent of the Gettysburg Area School District, as interim superintendent for the remainder of the school year.

— Editor's note: This article has been changed to correct the misspelling of Corinne Mason's name.