EDITORIAL: Right to know in Suburban

The York Dispatch
  • Merkle was off the job for more than a week before the district acknowledged she was gone.
  • The lack of communication and transparency on this matter was, frankly, startling.

If winter weather means buses can’t get through, parents of every student in the York Suburban School District get a heads-up phone call by about 5:30 a.m.

Ditto if school is letting out early for, say, a teacher work session on Friday — every household gets a friendly reminder Thursday evening.

Heck, the district has been known to robocall parents to remind them school pictures will be taken the next day, just in case they want to spiff the kiddies up a bit.

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It’s a handy little system York Suburban has there for quickly passing important information to everyone who needs to know.

Apparently, the superintendent taking a sudden leave of absence, a day before the assistant superintendent retired, doesn’t rank up there with snow days, half days and picture days.

In this file photo, York Suburban Superintendent Shelly Merkle gives an update on her district during a news conference regarding the Campaign for Fair Education Funding at the York City School administrative building in York City, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Former Superintendent Michele Merkle was off the job for more than a week last month before anyone from the district publicly acknowledged she was gone.

And it was only after The York Dispatch, acting on a tip, asked specifically about Merkle’s status that someone confirmed her “medical leave of absence.”

That was on Friday, Sept. 22. Later, we learned Merkle’s last day with the district had been Thursday, Sept. 14.

So who was in charge during that time, since former Assistant Superintendent Patricia Maloney retired on Sept. 15?

“That’s a great question,” said board member Richard Robinson, who acknowledged he didn’t have an answer.

The Dispatch had attempted to reach the other eight board members, Merkle, Maloney, other administrators and even the high school principal to see if any of them could provide an answer.

Later that Friday, the district’s director of finance, Corinne Mason, responded. She confirmed Merkle’s leave and said she would be acting as the point of contact for the district until an interim superintendent was appointed.

That was good to know … and something parents should have been told a week earlier.

The school board has yet to explain why parents weren’t notified of Merkle’s leave, which could have been done as easily as calling a snow day.

Likewise, no one has offered a satisfactory explanation for why she suddenly took a leave of absence, even after that leave became a resignation the afternoon of Monday, Sept. 25.

That resignation was unanimously accepted by the board a few hours later, with no public discussion.

Earlier that Monday, school board President Lynne Leopold-Sharp cited “personnel matters” and “personal health information” as reasons why no school board members would be commenting on the top administrator’s leave or resignation.

While we understand privacy concerns, we are also concerned about York Suburban residents’ right to know what’s happening in their children’s schools.

The same goes for district taxpayers, who send a good chunk of their earnings to the district every year.

There should be a balance — a right to privacy and the public’s right to know — but it doesn’t appear the school board has even tried to strike one. 

The lack of communication and transparency on this matter was, frankly, startling.

And it’s not what we’ve come to expect from a district widely regarded as one of the best in York County.