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Lehighton district terminates Cleaver’s contract

Lehighton Area School District is cutting ties with its superintendent of over nine years.

The board passed a motion Wednesday night to “terminate compensation and benefits for Superintendent Jonathan J. Cleaver effective Thursday,” citing improper terminology with how Cleaver’s contract has been continued over the years.

Cleaver was hired under a three-year contract with Lehighton on June 18, 2012, running until June 30, 2015.

When a superintendent is hired, they must receive a minimum of three years and a maximum of five years on their contract, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Jeff Sultanik, attorney for Fox Rothschild, which represents the district, said it is his understanding of PDE policy and school code, that the state allows for “contract extensions,” but requires a “contract renewal” after a maximum of five years have passed. That contract renewal would again be required to be three-to-five years in length.

Lehighton prepared a memorandum of understanding dated Dec. 24, 2014, to give Cleaver an “extension” through the 2018-18 school year. According to the resolution on Wednesday’s agenda, the district’s current legal firm, Fox Rothschild, deems that extension violated school code because the state does not allow you to “extend” an original contract term past five years. It, according to Sultanik, should have been termed a “contract renewal.”

“This was a completely illegal and unauthorized action of the LASD,” Fox Rothschild wrote in the resolution adopted Wednesday night.

Cleaver he said he appreciates the district learning community’s support over the last decade.

“The achievements we have made together are something that everyone should be proud of,” he added. “The efforts and resilience this administration, staff, parents and students have shown throughout this pandemic are unmatched. Over the past years, I have had the opportunity to work with many fantastic individuals and have developed numerous significant friendships that will continue to be cherished.”

According to Cleaver, he will continue to serve the district until ordered to stop.

“My message to the Lehighton educational community is to remain focused on doing what you do best, which is educating the wonderful students of this district, no matter what the circumstances are,” he said. “Thank you all for the support and the ‘Tribe Pride’ that will forever have a special place in my heart.

The motion passed 7-1 with director Nathan Foeller the only opposing vote.

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