Owen J. Roberts school board yesterday unexpectedly fired its superintendent, Myra Forrest, who sat silently at the meeting while stunned residents spoke glowingly of her.
After giving out several student awards, board president Edward Kerner made a motion to terminate Forrest without cause. Forrest was hired four years ago and had one year left on her contract.
The motion set off a stream of board members, administrators and parents praising Forrest's accomplishments, noting that she had raised test scores as well as the morale of staff in the nearly 5,000-student district in northern Chester County.
"This was so well orchestrated," Barbara McMeekin, one of four who voted against the firing, said yesterday. She said no one told her a reason for the dismissal, adding that she and at least two other board members, Rose Bilinski and William LaCoff, had no idea Forrest was going to be let go.
After making the motion and listening to public comment, the board retired to an executive session, then returned and voted 5-4 to get rid of Forrest.
Siding with Kerner were Eugene Endress, John Dutton, Debbie Bissland and Karen Zelley. Kernan and other board members who voted for the firing could not be reached today for comment. Endress said he did not want to discuss it.
In recent years, the rapidly growing district has been consumed with building projects, including a new elementary school, expansion of the high school by more than 50 percent and renovation of the middle school.
Forrest, who grew up in North Coventry Township and graduated from Owen J. Roberts High School in 1965, spent most of her career in Pottstown School District where she started as a kindergarten teacher and rose to assistant superintendent.
It was Zelley who spoke on Forrest's behalf when she was hired in 2005. Zelley called her the "best choice to take our district to the highest leve of educational achievement."
McMeekin said Forrest has done just that, improving the culture of the district so that everyone was child-centered and focused on educational accomplishments.
Erinne Aicher, a parent who was at the meeting, wrote in an e-mail today, "It is unthinkable that a decision of this magnitude could be proposed and voted on in the same meeting, with no advance notice to the residents of the district or evidence given of lack of performance."
But Forrest has irritated some board members by her spending on staff.
"That has always been contentious," McMeekin said. "They (some board members) think one person can fill six or seven positions. . . . They just have it in their heads we have too much staff."
With school districts facing rising costs and fewer subsidies from the state and federal government, Roberts held next year's budget increase to 2.4 percent.
During the meeting, board members said they already had a replacement in mind and had scheduled a public meeting for Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the high school to discuss the vacancy.