Meadville Tribune

April 11, 2010

Farrell to eye next step following ruling in McFerren's favor


Meadville Tribune

FARRELL — By Tom Davidson special to the meadville tribune FARRELL — Almost two years into his tenure as principal of Farrell High School, Meadville resident Lee V. McFerren was disciplining a student who had earned a double detention and wasn’t allowed to take part in extracurricular activities. The student flouted McFerren, who suspended him. When the student’s parents protested, McFerren met with the student and his father. “You know what,” McFerren told the student. “The white man (is) going to kick your (butt).” The remark was one of the examples Farrell Area School District used to support charges of immorality in proceedings to fire McFerren from the post. It’s an unsupported claim, Commonwealth Court Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt wrote in a 31-page opinion that reversed Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Gerald Zahorchak’s decision to uphold the district’s firing of McFerren in July 2008. “The opinion of the Commonwealth Court is insightful and well-reasoned,” McFerren’s attorney, Barbara Seman Ochs, said. “Mr. McFerren is pleased to have been vindicated.” She refrained from further comment and said McFerren had nothing more to say because “the litigation with the Farrell Area School District is not yet concluded.” The court’s opinion picked apart the case compiled by Huntingdon Valley attorneys Michael Levin and Andria Saia, who represented the district in the matter. Levin was out of town Friday and unavailable for comment. The district’s attorney, James Nevant II, said he was waiting for a chance to consult before he advised the district what to do next. “Once he (Levin) has a chance to review it, he and I will get together and determine a course of action,” Nevant said. “Then it will be up to the board to make a decision.” There may be grounds for the district to appeal the ruling to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. “I’ll just say there are a number of issues worth exploring relative to an appeal,” Nevant said. Several Farrell School Board members are out of town this weekend for a Pennsylvania School Board’s Association Conference. The board next meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the administrative offices of the district. The court ruled unequivocally that “the district’s evidence did not support that it had a valid cause to discharge McFerren.” McFerren was hired July 1, 2005, and was given a five-year contract which was to expire June 30. His salary was about $82,000 per year. He claims he was hired to clean up a school that was suffering academically, with students and staff members who were out of control. On Feb. 7, 2008, he was suspended without pay and was fired later that year after public hearings that lasted about 20 hours over several days. The district “exaggerated minor or irrelevant incidents” that were “cobbled together” to allege that McFerren’s performance violated school laws and that he neglected his job duties, according to the court. The district has spent more that $80,000 — 2 mills of property taxes — in legal bills to deal with the case. Before going to Farrell, McFerren worked at Franklin Area School District in Venango County and Crawford Central School District in Meadville. He is a graduate of Meadville Area Senior High School. Davidson writes for The (Sharon) Herald, which, like The Meadville Tribune, is owned by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.