2019 in Review: Palmerton principal challenge clouds district
An administrative dismissal hearing in Palmerton Area School District that played itself out over the course of more than a year culminated in 2019 with a high school principal getting her job back and a superintendent leaving for another district.
High School Principal Paula Husar was suspended Sept. 7, 2017, when Palmerton Superintendent Scot Engler recommended her dismissal to the school board and cited over 20 charges against her.
In April, the board voted 7-2 to uphold nine months of Husar’s suspension, making its ending date effective June 7, 2018, and reinstating her as principal.
“Mrs. Husar is obviously very happy about the board’s decision to return her to her job as principal,” Husar’s attorney Mark Bufalino said after the decision. “We continue to disagree she should have been disciplined in any manner.”
The dismissal hearing began in late January 2018, with Engler describing an ongoing pattern of behavior leading to a “toxic work environment,” and Husar claiming Engler retaliated against her for an evaluation of him she gave to the school board.
Palmerton’s board determined there was not sufficient evidence presented to terminate her on eight individual charges including that Husar engaged in persistent negligence in the performance of her duties as outlined in the dismissal charges.
The charges were that she was insubordinate on Sept. 7, 2017, by failing to report to the district office for a Loudermill hearing or to return her district belongings and that she caused a serious disruption in the district when she failed to return school property to the administration office and caused rumors and gossip to spread.
Other charges include that she failed to adequately address or inform Engler of ethnicity-based harassment complaints leading to a Pennsylvania Human Relations complaint filed against the district, that she intentionally attempted to discredit Engler by making false and derogatory comments about him, that she failed to comply with a board policy related to field trips and the appropriate number of chaperones, and that she harassed and intimidated fellow employees.
Husar is seeking to reverse the school board’s decision in April to uphold her nine-month suspension from Sept. 7, 2017, to June 7, 2018.
Husar’s attorney, Mark Bufalino, filed an appeal in Carbon County Court on May 20, calling the board’s decision “improper.”
“The district did not meet its burden of proof of establishing any of the charges alleged against her by Mr. Engler, including, but not limited to the charge that she engaged in persistence negligence of her duties,” Bufalino wrote in the appeal.
Argument in Carbon County court was scheduled for November, but Bufalino filed for a continuance, noting the two sides were close to a resolution on the matter.
Shortly after Husar was reinstated by the board, it agreed to a mutual separation with Engler, who received one year salary upon his departure.
The agreement, made public through a Right To Know request, called for Palmerton to pay Engler $126,831, which was to be his pretax income for the 2019-20 school year.
Engler was under contract through 2022, and board President Kate Baumgardt called the decision to terminate it early a mutual decision.
The agreement calls for no member of Palmerton’s board, central office administration or human resources staff to make any statement regarding Engler that is inconsistent or contrary to the public statement read at the meeting.
The district tabbed Dr. Al Lonoconus to fill an interim superintendent role at the rate of $525 per day. Lonoconus, district officials said, will assist the district in its search for a new superintendent, a choice it plans to make in 2020.