NORTHERN CAMBRIA - In what's being characterized as both a cost savings and a way to improve education services, a split Northern Cambria school board voted Tuesday to eliminate its director of education and school psychologist positions.
The board agreed by a 5-to-3 vote to contact the state for approval to eliminate the jobs, which would result in the furlough or suspension of education director Joy Tibbott and psychologist Kelley Goss.
Brian Tibbott abstained. Frank Frontino, David Atkins and Roland Paronish voted against the measure.
Goss declined to comment. Joy Tibbott did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Superintendent John Jubas said he recommended the board eliminate the two jobs because the move will save the district money, while also taking advantage of "the expertise of the [Intermediate Unit]" in dealing with curriculum and special education.
He said it was unrelated to Tibbott-related lawsuits filed against the district and declined to discuss the suits which, some school officials have said, have cost the district tens of thousands of dollars in recent years.
Board President Ronald Dolansky also said the move is a money-saver meant to improve curriculum, and it was not personal.
"We're looking to change curriculum around, not only in the special ed department but for other things, too," he said.
But a letter sent to the Pennsylvania Department of Education Thursday paints a clearer picture of problems regarding the embattled education director's job performance.
Obtained from the district through a Right to Know Law request, the letter states that Tibbott's duties - which included oversight of curriculum, special education and federal programs - will be transferred to other administrators and the Appalachia Intermediate Unit 8, which also will provide psychological services and eliminate the need for a full-time psychologist.
The letter directly references a 2013 settlement agreement that created her position out of necessity "due to a legal problem." District parent Donna Frontino initiated the lawsuit after her children filed complaints stating that they felt uncomfortable around Tibbott.
As part of the settlement, Tibbott agreed to give up her title as high school principal and took the new position of education director, keeping her duties as special education director and adding oversight of curriculum and federal programs to a long list of responsibilities.
Some school board members previously told the Mirror they felt the role was too much for one person, and it was negatively affecting students.
The letter further states that by removing the education director position and returning curriculum oversight to the superintendent, the school "will regain the losses in student achievement, improve professional staff morale and allow the district the resources to offer more classroom instructional tools for educational needs."
Amy Clark, learning support teacher and teachers' union president, declined to comment on teachers' feelings about the change.
The letter also mentions other special education lawsuits, noting that the district hopes to turn over administrative duties to the Intermediate Unit to avoid further lawsuits and regain "communication, rapport and respect" with parents.
"This action will also provide our district the resources and ability to correctly administer a program that is vitally important ... something we have sorely been lacking," the letter states.
Board member Delvin Lockard said the move is the first of many to "revamp the whole system" at Northern Cambria.
"We're doing it to, hopefully, improve the system," he said. "We used to have the [Intermediate Unit] do a lot of stuff for us, and we didn't have any problems back then."
He said he hopes board members have put controversy behind them so they can refocus on the students and stop the financial bleeding from litigation and legal fees.
"Things just didn't work, and there's a lot of stuff I can't talk about," he said. "I just thought it was the right move, right now."
Finance Director Sam Kirk, who is slated to take over as interim superintendent July 1, declined to comment on the letter specifically, but said he's hoping for "better news" out of the district from this point on.
"It's weighing on my mind also ... this is possibly something that could make or break you," he said.
It is unclear whether Tibbott or Goss have so-called "bumping rights" and could return to the district in another role.
School officials confirmed that neither have been to work since Tuesday.
The board also is looking to re-evaluate its support staffing. A special meeting has been schedule for June 2 to discuss personnel.
Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.