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In ouster’s wake, Ohio County board sees big crowd

Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register photo by Scott McCloskey Vargo, center, makes her way through a standing room only crowd prior to the start of the meeting.
Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register photo by Scott McCloskey
Vargo, center, makes her way through a standing room only crowd prior to the start of the meeting.

WHEELING, W.Va. — Ohio County Board of Education member Sarah Koegler believes a public town hall discussion is warranted as board members prepare to hire the school district’s next superintendent.

Board President Shane Mallett responded to her request during Monday’s board meeting by directing all board member questions and inquiries about the hiring process to legal counsel.

A capacity crowd turned out for the meeting, which took place just two weeks after board members voted 3-2 not to renew the contract of Superintendent Dianna Vargo when it expires June 30. Mallett and members Gary Kestner and Tim Birch voted “yes” on a Dec. 29 motion not to renew Vargo’s contract, while Koegler and Christine Carder voted “no.”

Carder was not present at Monday night’s meeting.

Mallett said there have been accusations that he and the two other male members of the board exhibited “sexist” motives and were involved in “backroom deals” when they voted not to renew Vargo’s contract. He said outside oversight of the new superintendent’s hiring is necessary in light of those accusations to assure fairness in the process.

“Due to the seriousness of the allegations that have been (made against) Mr. Kestner, Mr. Birch and myself, I have contacted the board’s general counsel, Chapman and Casey, to help us lead this board in our search for a new superintendent,” Mallett said. “Specifically, they will come up with a process for the board to follow which is in compliance with West Virginia Code and assure fairness throughout the entire superintendent’s search, and the hiring process.

“All questions board members have concerning the process should be directed to Chapman and Casey, as was done for the posting of said job.”

He pointed out attorney Sandra Chapman was involved in the process of hiring two state superintendents while serving for nine years on the West Virginia Board of Education, and that attorney Patrick Casey has been the legal representative for Ohio County Schools in recent months.

The Ohio County Board of Education has approved letters of representation with a number of local law firms who they can call upon for legal work not expected to cost more than $10,000, according to Mallett. Mallett, also an attorney, made the call to Casey and Chapman.

He also has asked Howard O’Cull, executive director of the West Virginia School Board Association, to conduct a workshop for board members on hiring a new superintendent.

Koegler said the workshop was a “great idea.”

“However, this training should not take the place of an open discussion at a public board meeting about what we are looking for in a new superintendent, and how we plan to identify the right person, and build the trust of the public through openness and transparency,” she said.

Koegler said the name of anyone who is considered a finalist for the position should be made public. She also said the board should hold a town hall meeting for residents to provide input on the direction of the school system.

Koegler said she was disappointed, but not surprised, that her call for a town hall forum went ignored.

“I’m moving on,” she said.

Seven people signed up Monday night to speak before the board about the superintendent issue, with most wanting to express their respect and admiration to Vargo for her 32 years of service to Ohio County Schools.

Among those speaking were retired Ohio County educators Ron Mauck and Allan Connolly, as well as current staff members Cheryl Williams, Joanne Taylor, Gail Adams and David Alfred.

Taylor said she has been employed as a special education aide in the district for 48 years, and has worked with Vargo throughout her career. She spoke of Vargo’s well-known work ethic, and told a story of how former Wheeling Park High School Principal Phyllis Beneke once scolded Vargo for “working too hard, and spending too much time teaching classes, grading papers and tutoring students.”

“Miss Beneke directed her to stop working so hard, and socialize more,” Taylor said.

Jerry Ames, president of the Ohio County School Service Personnel Association, also took issue with the infighting on the board. He asked them not to drag the school district’s service workers into the controversy.

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