The Uniontown Area School Board approved a separation agreement with a district employee Monday but declined to reveal the name or position of the individual, information that should be public record according to state law.
The board in an 8-0 vote approved the agreement with the employee, identified in the agenda only as “employee #102226.”
Dr. Dan Bosnic, assistant to the superintendent, said following the meeting the contract is a severance agreement for a nonprofessional employee with “performance issues” and with whom the district mutually agreed to part ways.
Section 708 of the Right-to-Know Law makes certain employee information public record, including name, position, salary, employment contract and length of service.
Uniontown officials declined to provide that information.
According to attorney Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel with the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, in addition to public information protected by the Right-to-Know Law, the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act requires public agencies to provide an opportunity for meaningful public comment prior to all votes. That cannot happen if the public is not provided basic information on agenda items on which votes are taken, she said.
Melewsky said the district should have identified the employee and disclosed the basic terms of the agreement prior to voting so the public could understand what was being considered and offer meaningful public comment prior to the vote.
“The public can’t exercise that right if they don’t know the basic information about a proposed vote,” she said.
District solicitor Michael Brungo said confidentiality provisions are in place to protect individuals when such agreements are entered.
“This is a mutually agreed upon decision for this individual to terminate his employment (with the district) to move on,” said Brungo. “The one thing that we can say right here is that the district entering into this agreement with this individual is in the best interest of all parties, but in particular the children and staff of the school district.”
Brungo said Pennsylvania personnel law provides for employee privacy, which prevents the personal information of individuals employed by a government entity, such as a public school district, from being readily available to the public.
He also stated that there are certain protections within the Right-to-Know Law, a law which provides public access to executed settlement agreements as well as employment and employment-related contracts for public employees through written request, that give the district the ability to redact certain information from a document when fulfilling a Right-to-Know request, including the identification of an individual involved in a personnel matter.
Melewsky said that while other personal identification information, like a social security number and or an employee identification number, can be redacted from a document, the name of a public employee involved in a settlement contract cannot be redacted.
If Uniontown were to redact the individual’s name when fulfilling a Right-to-Know request, she said, it could open the district to bad faith claims under the Right-to-Know Law.