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Pennridge terminates controversial consulting contract with Vermilion


The Vermilion Education era in the Pennridge School District ended Monday night the same way it began almost seven months ago.

Embroiled in controversy.

With a new Democrat-controlled board that campaigned to end the deal set to take office Monday, the current board, with a Republican majority, voted to conclude Vermilion’s assignment, saying Jordan Adams had completed the curriculum review he had been asked to do. The vote included approval to pay his last invoice for $4,937.50, bringing to more than $35,000 the total compensation paid for Vermilion’s services.

The vote to end the contract was 5-0, with abstentions from the four board members — Joan Cullen, Ron Wurz, Christine Batycki, and Jonathan Russell — who opposed Vermilion’s hiring in April and criticized the quality of Adams’ work since then. Cullen said she abstained from the vote because she wanted an opportunity to vote against paying the final invoice and because she didn’t want Adams to be able to say the board unanimously accepted his work.

“He should not be getting paid,” she said. “We should actually be getting a refund.”

Cullen used the words “embarrassing,” “laughable,” “unprofessional,” “the biggest grift,” and “shameful” as she criticized Adams and the five board members who brought him to the district to review the 9th-grade Social Studies curriculum after cutting the district’s Social Studies requirement for graduation from four credits to three. She said the board acted in secrecy and did not consider other consultants before approving the contract by a 5-4 vote. Cullen said Vermilion’s 15-page final report was so “unprofessional and incomplete that if I was still teaching, it would get a failing grade from me.” She said the final report didn’t even mention the 9th-grade curriculum, which was the primary reason he was hired, and criticized him for only appearing before the board one time — a Zoom session in June — for which he was roundly panned.

“This is the biggest grift,” she said. “Congratulations to him for managing to fool the five of you people, but I’m not going to be fooled.”

While Cullen took issue with process and quality, members of the public criticized Adams for inserting the Hillsdale College 1776 Curriculum, which they said provides a sanitized version of U.S history when it comes to slavery, civil rights, and the LGBTQ+ community, into Pennridge classrooms.

In an email after the meeting, Adams said he believes “Mrs. Cullen’s personal issues with her colleagues has led her to blindly criticize anything or anyone associated” with them. Adams said working with Pennridge board members and administrators “has been cordial and productive, even in areas of disagreement.” The vast majority of district parents will find Vermilion’s recommendations to be “aboveboard, measured, and reasonable,” he said.

“It is unfortunate that extreme but loud and well-organized voices have sown confusion and distortion,” Adams said. “I hope these voices will someday embrace with civility discussion of ideas that challenge them to raise expectations and keep parents in the picture.”

Jordan Blomgren, chair of the Curriculum Committee, chided Cullen for what she called “selective outrage” over the Vermilion contract. Where was the outrage, she said, when the district spent $126,000 on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) consultants “without any context about what we paid for.” She thanked Adams for his work and expressed hope the district retains some of his recommendations to ensure “content being delivered to students is unbiased and not leading” and promised to continue her fight to keep “bias, social justice activism, CRT (Critical Race Theory), and DEI out of our schools.”

Penridge, she said, has a responsibility to ensure “there’s equal weight given to positions and ideas and not delivered one-sided.” She said the district should look at “big ideas, essential questions, and content that may have potential bias and give more guidance to teachers to ensure the delivery and discussion is even-handed.”

Wurz said he was “thankful we’ll not have to mention the word Vermilion again. Let’s put it behind us and move on.”

In other business, the board:

●Appointed Bradley Palmer Assistant Superintendent, replacing Dr. Anthony Rybarczyk, who resigned to take a position in another school district. Palmer is currently assistant principal at Abington Senior High School, where he served under current PSD Superintendent Angelo Berrios.

●Approved a five-year contract with the Pennridge Education Support Professional Association, representing bus and van divers, teaching assistants, and classroom aides. Megan Banis-Clemens, who was part of the negotiating team, said the new deal, which takes effect immediately and supersedes the current contract that was set to expire on June 30, 2024, includes wage increases and professional development time that will allow the district to compete for employees in hard-to-fill positions.

●Accepted Banis-Clemens’ resignation as a member of Upper Bucks County Technical School’s Joint Operating Committee and appointed Blomgren, who has served as an alternate for the past year, as her replacement.

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