Principal not forced out, board asserts
By Brandon Ortiz
A former Fayette elementary school principal was allowed to negotiate the terms of her resignation last year and exhaust her paid leave after she was confronted with more than 50 allegations of wrongdoing, according to documents filed in a lawsuit.
Despite resigning from her position as principal of Booker T. Washington Academy on Aug. 27, Peggy Petrilli remained on the Fayette County school board’s payroll until she formally retired in February 2008, according to documents filed in Fayette Circuit Court by the board.
The documents do not specify what kind of leave Petrilli was allowed to use. Her attorney, Dale Golden, said he thinks Petrilli exhausted her sick leave and vacation days.
Petrilli’s resignation came a few days after Superintendent Stu Silberman confronted her with a long list of complaints by parents of students. In addition to allegations of testing irregularities and having poor relationships with parents, the list also complained about a lack of black teachers.
On Aug. 27, Petrilli’s attorney at the time, Jeffrey Walther, and school board lawyer Brenda D. Allen negotiated the terms of her resignation. Petrilli was allowed to exhaust her leave and agreed not to apply for employment with the Fayette schools “at any time in the future,” according to a faxed copy of the agreement filed in Fayette Circuit Court.
In exchange, Silberman agreed to provide a positive letter of reference and a detailed statement of allegations made against Petrilli.
The board also released a public statement from Petrilli regarding her resignation.
A school board spokeswoman declined to say Tuesday why the school board agreed to the deal. School board attorney John McNeil also declined to comment.
The documents were filed Monday in a reverse discrimination lawsuit filed in February by Petrilli. Her suit accuses the school board and Silberman of forcing her out so they could replace her with a black principal.
Petrilli was hired as Booker T.’s principal on March 2005. She was previously the principal of Northern Elementary.
In April, the school board released a sweeping 42-page report that accused Petrilli of engaging in testing irregularities, improperly holding students back a year, misleading parents, circumventing the school’s site-based council and retaliating against parents.
Petrilli responded by widening her lawsuit to include claims that the school board and the report’s author, Allen, defamed her.
A motion filed by the board on Monday sought to dismiss the new claims. It said it was required to investigate the claims against Petrilli. The investigation was conducted in good faith, McNeil wrote.
The motion to dismiss is scheduled to be heard Friday in Fayette Circuit Court.
A major point of contention in the lawsuit is whether Petrilli voluntarily resigned, as the school board maintains.
The correspondence between Petrilli’s former attorney and Allen indicate she agreed to resign.
But Golden said Tuesday that Petrilli was forced out. Had she not resigned, she would have been suspended and the school district would have begun the disciplinary process, he said. School boards commonly make dozens of false allegations against educators they want discharged in the hope that at least one accusation will stick, Golden said.
The disciplinary process would have taken years to resolve and would have cost Petrilli thousands of dollars in legal fees to defend herself, he said.
“These school systems are creating this situation, and when they do it they leave the administrators with no other choice but to quit,” Golden said.
Reach Brandon Ortiz at (859) 231-1443, 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 1443.