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Educator's Suicide Brings Call for Expulsions

Superintendent was publicly humiliated and fired. Now his supporters want to oust a staff attorney and the school board.

May 11, 2003|David B. Caruso | Associated Press Writer

PHILADELPHIA — The school board president in the suburban Chichester district was approached recently by someone in a convenience store who angrily told him: "You've got blood on your hands."

The school system's chief attorney has been hounded by people accusing her of everything short of murder.

And at a recent public meeting, a group borrowed a tactic used by the U.S. military in Iraq and handed out "Most Wanted" playing cards bearing the names of school board members.

People in the middle-class school district in suburban Philadelphia have seethed since Easter weekend when schools Supt. Edwin Meyer committed suicide after losing a three-month battle to keep his job.

More than 600 people jammed a meeting hall last month to demand the ouster of officials they say persecuted and publicly humiliated the 60-year-old educator, who was forced out amid allegations of mismanagement and other misconduct.

One group said it has collected more than 3,000 signatures on a petition demanding the removal of Terry Silva, the district solicitor who coordinated the effort to dismiss Meyer and grilled him during a pair of public hearings. The school board has scheduled a Monday vote on Silva's employment.

There may also be retribution at the ballot box. At least one group is vowing to organize an anti-incumbent write-in campaign in November.

"That poor man took his own life," said Karry Kiker, a parent. "We are sick and tired of the school board and this Terry Silva."

The fierceness of the criticism has been frightening for the unpaid volunteers who make up the school board.

"It's thugism," Silva said. She said that Meyer was treated fairly, and that she has no intention of resigning.

"We weren't persecuting anybody," she said.

Before his downfall, Meyer was a well-regarded superintendent, a Rotarian of the Year who worked long hours and started a nonprofit foundation to raise money for academic programs in the district. He had a 35-year career in education, arriving in the Chichester district in 1999.

The trouble began late last year after Meyer tangled with Silva by trying to have her duties scaled back and her billing hours reduced. The effort failed when Silva narrowly survived a school board vote to remove her in December.

The following month, in what Meyer's defenders have characterized as retaliation, Silva accused the superintendent of mismanaging employees, creating a hostile work environment for women and improperly installing a phone system that traced calls. He said the system was installed to catch people who make bomb threats.

The board also questioned whether a transfer of $8,000 in district funds to one of Meyer's accounts had been properly approved, board President William Tracey said.

The board suspended Meyer from his $123,000-a-year post in January and ordered Silva to investigate. Information was turned over to the district attorney. In April, the board began hearings on Meyer's dismissal.

Friends and relatives said the accusations and two days of interrogations left Meyer, a married man with four children and four grandchildren, drained and depressed. He shot himself to death; his body was found April 20 in the woods in Delaware.

A stunned community blamed Silva. The criticism only got louder after prosecutors said they had been given no evidence that Meyer's actions were illegal.

"I think it was a political witch hunt," state Rep. Stephen E. Barrar said. "Silva has to go."

Tracey said he intends to retain Silva, who he said is among the district's most valuable employees.

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