Get our newsletters

Emails show top Pennridge officials opposed April hiring of Vermilion


Pennridge Superintendent Dr. David Bolton expressed serious concerns about a controversial curriculum consulting contract that was added to the school board agenda at the last minute in April. Despite those misgivings, the board voted 5-4 to approve the deal with Vermilion Education, becoming the first school district in the country to sign on with the five-month-old Michigan firm with ties to conservative Christian Hillsdale College and its 1776 Project, which critics say whitewashes history in the name of American exceptionalism.

In an email exchange obtained through a Right-to-Know request and posted on social media, Bolton was responding to an April 24 text that Curriculum Committee chair Jordan Blomgren sent him on April 24 saying the contract would be considered at the April 26 board meeting.

“At this point, no one in the district has seen the contract to review the scope of services and costs,” Bolton wrote to the full board at about noon on April 25. He urged that “this be a conversation” about the need for a consultant and that “our curriculum staff make the decision about what is needed.”

Addressing specific concerns, Bolton cited the last-minute timing, the open-ended cost ($125 per hour with no cap), the vague scope of work, the secretive process the board followed to negotiate the contract, and losing trust with the staff as reasons to hold off on considering the contract. He said neither of the assistant superintendents — Dr. Kathy Scheid and Dr. Tony Rybarczyk — who have been working closely on the curriculum updates — “believe this resource is needed and that, in contrast, It may hurt the process.”

Bolton said the administration was on track to present an update on curriculum revision at the June board meeting. “Those documents are at the finish line and our staff has worked hard on these,” wrote Bolton. “Since it is indicated the consultant will not undo this work, we are not sure what purpose he serves.”

Less than an hour after Bolton sent his email to the full board, vice president Megan Banis-Clemens responded to Bolton urging him to “terminate any open contracts with other consultants we are paying a ridiculous rate to in an apparently open blank check.” She called the email “inappropriate and in bad faith.”

Banis-Clemens went on to remind Bolton “ continue to add contracts to agendas at the last minute and in some cases without board approval.” She did not provide specific examples and did not respond to a request for comment.

Banis-Clemens added “it actually makes me wonder what you’re worried about. It gives me the impression you have something to hide.” She also took issue with Bolton’s claim that the curriculum review was almost complete before the Vermilion contract was proposed. “It’s interesting that all of a sudden this curriculum is just about done when that is not what has been shared with us in any way,” Banis-Clemens wrote.

Board member Christine Batycki, who voted against the deal, said Bolton’s email “is just the beginning of my concerns with the Vermilion consulting contract.” While the board was told the contract was for consulting services on social studies for students in grades 1-5 and 9, she said Vermilion founder Jordan C. Adams was asked to review the 7th and 8th grades Reading/Language Arts curriculum as well.

Batycki, a member of the Curriculum Committee, said there have been meetings with Adams that other board members were not made aware of until after they happened. She also said she has not seen an invoice from Vermilion for services provided in May.

Before the April vote, board member Ricki Chaikin reminded the audience she “was elected to get bias out of our curriculum,” and defended the contract but did not address specific objections. “Our end goal is that every single kid who leaves Pennridge loves this country and understands our Constitution,” Chaikin said. “Right now, that’s not happening.”

Adams, 34, formed Vermilion in December. Previously, he graduated from Hillsdale in 2013, taught at a charter school and a Catholic school, and returned to his alma mater as an employee tasked with growing the number of charter schools using Hillsdale’s curriculum.

Bolton could not be reached for comment. A few hours before graduation on June 7, he sent an email to the community announcing he was taking a leave of absence for health reasons and expected to return in a month. That led to speculation that Bolton had either been fired or resigned.

Batycki said that is not the case.

“Dr. Bolton has not been terminated,” she wrote in an email. “I hope he will return to us on July 5, per his email to the community.”

Join our readers whose generous donations are making it possible for you to read our news coverage. Help keep local journalism alive and our community strong. Donate today.