Ex-Suburban superintendent apologizes, gets ARD

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

The former superintendent of York Suburban School District has been officially accepted into a York County diversionary program that will allow her to avoid conviction on her two criminal mischief charges, if she successfully completes all her requirements.

"I apologize for my actions on the evening of Sept. 11, 2017, and for the negative attention that they brought to the district," Shelly Merkle wrote in a letter given to reporters by her attorney, Jeff Marshall.

Michele Merkle exits the York County Judicial Center following an Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition Hearing in York City, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"I make no excuses for my actions, and I accept full responsibility for them," she wrote. "Nonetheless, these irrational and uncharacteristic actions were a direct result of underlying health issues that previously seemed unremarkable."

Merkle did not elaborate on those issues and declined comment as she left one of the multipurpose rooms in the York County Judicial Center on Tuesday, Feb. 27.

Michele Merkle, 55, of Vicki Drive in Spring Garden Township, appeared before Common Pleas Judge Harry Ness with other defendants Tuesday morning, where Ness accepted the group into the ARD program en masse.

The Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program allows first-time nonviolent offenders to avoid conviction by instead completing a set of court-ordered requirements.

Merkle's requirements included that she bring a letter of apology and all but $1,000 of the restitution she owed Suburban's former assistant superintendent Patricia Maloney for repairs to Maloney's vehicles, according to ARD administrator Katie Romeo.

Restitution paid in full:  Merkle paid her entire restitution amount Tuesday, Romeo said — $4,361.64.

Merkle also must perform 35 hours of community service, submit to a mental-health evaluation and comply with recommended treatment, according to Romeo.

If Merkle successfully completes all her ARD requirements, the charges against her will be dismissed in a year. Defendants who don't complete requirements are kicked out of the program and again face trial on their charges.

Merkle's submitted letter of apology to Maloney isn't public record, York County District Attorney's Office spokesman Kyle King said.

It is a different letter than the one provided to reporters by  Marshall on Tuesday. Marshall declined comment.

In the letter to reporters, Merkle wrote, "Had I understood the impact these health issues would have on my thoughts and actions, I certainly would have given them my full attention before they affected me so dramatically."

Former York Suburban School district superintendent Shelley Merkle wrote a letter of apology for the media, which was given to reporters outsider her ARD hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 27. In it, she apologizes for vandalizing two vehicles on school property that belong to former assistant superintendent Patricia Maloney.

Maloney is now assistant superintendent for Dover Area School District.

Ten flat tires: She submitted a written victim-impact statement to the court, plus copies of bills for vehicle repairs and for 10 counseling sessions. Maloney wrote:

"This incident has caused me and my family public humiliation. It has affected my personal and professional reputation. I have been working hard to deal with the trauma of being purposefully targeted by the perpetrator as she was my supervisor in the workplace for approximately four years.

"While I know that I may only seek restitution for the damages that occurred on September 11, 2017, the court should be aware that I have had at least 10 flat tires (resulting in the purchase of 7 new tires) and 3 incidents of (vandalism) to the body of my vehicles from April 2017-September 11, 2017."

Maloney's attorney, Ed Paskey, has said there was a "pattern of vandalism and professional intimidation" against Maloney going back to April.

"I've reviewed Dr. Merkle's statement," Paskey told The York Dispatch. "Regardless of her claims as to the root of her actions, I hope she takes constructive, positive and law-abiding steps moving forward."

Earlier this month, Paskey described ARD as "the legal equivalent to receiving a gift."

The background: Charging documents filed Nov. 28 state Merkle scratched the paint on Maloney's red Volvo sedan and white Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Merkle also put screws next to both vehicles' tires, according to charging documents, which state she admitted to damaging the vehicles in a Nov. 22 interview with York County detectives.

Maloney parked her Jeep in the high school lot on Hollywood Drive on Sept. 11, then left about 5:15 p.m. to drive home. Once at home, Maloney discovered a screw in one of the Jeep's tires, documents state.

She drove her red Volvo back to school property to attend a meeting at 6:30 p.m. the same evening, according to documents. The York Suburban school board had a committee meeting that night.

About 9:15 p.m., Maloney walked back to the Volvo and found a screw placed next to one of its tires and also noticed someone had made numerous scratches on the trunk area and side panel of the Volvo, documents state.

More damage: Maloney later found scratches on her Jeep in addition to a screw in the  tire, according to documents.

"In the following days, Patricia Maloney advised that she was supplied with surveillance video from the York Suburban School District," charging documents state.

The video shows Merkle damaging both vehicles Sept. 11.

Neither the DA's Office nor York Suburban School District have publicly released the video, despite repeated requests by The York Dispatch.

York County detectives handled the investigation into Merkle after Spring Garden Township Police asked the district attorney's office to take over the investigation because of a conflict of interest.

That conflict appears to be that Merkle is neighbors with Spring Garden Township Police Chief George Swartz.

Leave of absence: On Sept. 14, 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.

During that week, the district's top two administrative posts were vacant, as Maloney's previously announced retirement took effect Sept. 15.

Corinne Mason, the district's director of finance and Right-to-Know Law officer, confirmed Merkle's absence  Sept. 22.

Emails between York Suburban School District officials, obtained by The York Dispatch, appear to show a coordinated effort to clamp down on information about Merkle's sudden departure.

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

'NOTHING goes out': On Sept. 14, the same day Merkle began what was called a medical leave of absence, Mason sent an email to school board President Lynne Leopold-Sharp and other board members, telling them not to say anything about the matter to other district staffers.

"There has been the question raised (of) what goes out to the staff," Mason wrote. "NOTHING goes out to the staff at this time. If you are asked anything regarding Dr. Merkle, 'Dr. Merkle is out on medical leave.'"

On Sept. 25, Merkle, who was making $186,000 a year, submitted a letter of resignation, which the board unanimously accepted that night at its regular board meeting.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.