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Ohio County superintendent ousted on 3-2 vote

Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register photo by Joselyn King Ohio County Schools Superintendent Dianna Vargo, right, sits alongside board of education President Shane Mallett prior to the board’s 3-2 vote not to renew her contract Tuesday night.
Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register photo by Joselyn King
Ohio County Schools Superintendent Dianna Vargo, right, sits alongside board of education President Shane Mallett prior to the board’s 3-2 vote not to renew her contract Tuesday night.

WHEELING, W.Va. — Ohio County Board of Education members provided little explanation Tuesday night after voting 3-2 not to renew Superintendent Dianna Vargo’s contract.

The decision by Shane Mallett, Tim Birch and Gary Kestner during Tuesday’s special meeting drew outrage from board members Christine Carder and Sarah Koegler, who voted to keep Vargo on board. The meeting was quickly adjourned after the vote – which came after board members met behind closed doors for 32 minutes – and Vargo, Mallett, Kestner and Birch immediately left the board room.

Gabe Wells, spokesman for Ohio County Schools, said Vargo would have no comment. She will serve as superintendent through June.

“It is important for the public to know Dr. Vargo was not terminated,” Mallett said in a phone interview after the meeting. “The move tonight was simply not to renew her contract. We appreciate her service, and look forward to moving the school district in new direction.”

When pressed for the reasons behind the decision, Mallett said he couldn’t publicly discuss employee matters. Neither Birch nor Kestner returned calls seeking comment.

Koegler said the handling of the matter by the board was disrespectful to Vargo, and destablizing to the school district.

“The biggest job of a school board is hiring and firing a superintendent,” Koegler said. “Every board member should be pushed to reveal their rationale for doing so. Refraining from comment because it’s a personnel matter is not a reason. …

“There will be 6,500 kids affected by this decision on Monday (when students return from holiday break),” Koegler continued. “I don’t know what she will do, or what we will do. It’s a tough position to be in to manage for the next six months. It’s hard for me to imagine they do not have someone in mind to name as a superintendent. I am in shock, and ignorant about what is behind this.”

Carder said she predicted back in the summer the male members of the board would not vote to renew Vargo’s contract.

“If Mr. Mallett were a leader, and he knew this was going to happen, then he should have approached her ahead of time and given her options … ,” Carder said. “They have no reason whatsover, and they don’t have to have a reason. The superintendent serves at the will and the pleasure of the board – or at least at the pleasure of three members of the board. I hope the public can see now it has been a boys’ club from the beginning.”

Carder said “no one has worked so hard for the county as Dr. Vargo did.” And she added it was the first time the board has ever voted not to renew a superintendent’s contract.

“They have no reason (for not doing so),” she said by phone following Tuesday night’s meeting. “But that has been the plan all along. They knew what they were going to do. We had no recourse and were totally helpless because we knew it was going to be a 3-2 vote.”

According to Koegler, board members never discussed Vargo’s contract prior to the executive session Tuesday night, and there had been no talk about when they would consider her contract renewal.

The year 2015 appeared to be a good one for Ohio County Schools. Standardized tests scores had placed them at the top among West Virginia school districts in language arts, and second in math achievements. Just this month WPHS won its first-ever state football championship, and repeated as the state champions in cheerleading.

The board requested of Vargo in recent years that she establish a list of goals, which they then would review with her on a quarterly basis. The goals set forth by Vargo came at the suggestions of board members, and after her review they determined she either met or exceeded the goals.

“Other than those forums, we had never discussed her performance or longevity,” Koegler said. “We as a board have never given her feedback about her performance that she never responded to. I voted to renew her contract for those reasons. She met every goal, and we never gave her formal feedback. More importantly we were in a good place – financially, academically and with athletics.

“No one would say she was perfect, but we were in a good place. Things are in good shape, and she did what we asked her to do.”

Board members also voted 4-1 to direct Human Resources Director Susan Nolte to post the superintendent’s position before Jan. 5. Carder also voted against that motion.

Ohio County Schools has no assistant superintendent or deputy superintendent to step in if Vargo leaves prior to the end of her contract in June.

“We can appoint if that happens,” Mallett said.

Vargo, a 32-year employee of the school district, has served as superintendent since January 2012, and her salary was listed at $150,000 annually by the West Virginia Department of Education. The amount was the sixth-highest among West Virginia’s 55 superintendents for the 2014-15 school year.

Vargo began her career as a math teacher at Wheeling Park High School in 1983, and also coached track and cross country there. She was named principal at WPHS in 2001 after serving as assistant principal. Vargo was selected as assistant superintendent of Ohio County Schools in 2005, serving in that position until 2009 when she was named deputy superintendent.

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