The tragedy of Anthony Hamlet

The tragedy of Anthony Hamlet

Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet, embroiled in an ethics scandal, is, by “mutual agreement” with the district, resigning after five years, effective Oct. 1.

The move was “unfortunate but necessary,” the district said.

But school board members who inexplicably hired Hamlet in 2016 (despite serious resume questions) and who then, again inexplicably, gave him a new contract last year (with the ethics investigation results known to Hamlet for his response but not to the board), should follow suit posthaste.

Additionally, given the state School Code-prescribed golden parachute that Hamlet walks away with – nearly $400,000, representing a year’s salary and an accumulated benefits payout — any new iteration of the school board must urge the state Legislature to rewrite that code to stop the practice of slapping taxpayers for any superintendent’s unethical behavior.

The Pennsylvania Ethics Commission, in a report made public last month, concluded that Hamlet improperly received already-paid-for travel reimbursements, was paid for job-related public appearances in which payments were forbidden by state law and repeatedly omitted pertinent information on financial disclosure documents.

It was “an egregious violation of the public trust,” said the commission’s executive director.

Hamlet has been ordered to repay the district about $20,000 in the form of reimbursements, fines and forfeited vacation time.

The district, through Solicitor Ira Weiss, defended the separation agreement as way to save potential litigation costs and time had Hamlet challenged a “for cause” dismissal.

Per state School Code, an interim superintendent could not have been appointed until the matter was resolved, which Weiss says could have taken years. The intimation also is that such litigation could have exceeded the cost of the state-guaranteed golden parachute.

But what a sad statement it is that taxpayers are thus forced to pay a premium for clearly unethical behavior that, by the way, also is undergoing a “thorough review” by the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office.

Every school district in the commonwealth should lobby the Legislature to outright bar such “go-away” payments to those who so egregiously violate ethics standards and know they will be rewarded. Talk about emboldening impunity.

As for Hamlet, up until near the very end, he hardly was contrite.

Hamlet hilariously claimed the Ethics Commission report “vindicated” him. And he alleged that even before he was hired in Pittsburgh, “there was a target on my back.”

Never mind that Hamlet came to the district under a cloud for resume padding and borrowing without attribution “his” educational philosophy. He labeled his critics “biased” for having the temerity to question those lapses.

Talk about twisting the lay of the land and stomping the facts into the ground. Hamlet is no “victim” in this saga. The only “target” on Anthony Hamlet’s back is the one he placed there himself.

But the fault, dear public, is not in Hamlet alone. The Pittsburgh school board gave Hamlet his first contract despite those resume issues. And it gave him his second, sweeter, contract before it knew the Ethics Commission’s findings.

Sans respective board members’ resignations, it’s now up to district voters to address the board’s recidivist lapses.

All that said, we must add this postscript:

In his letter of resignation, Hamlet not only made no apologies for his ethical misdeeds, he failed to even directly acknowledged they existed – other than to say “in light of current circumstances.”

And prior that, he wrote that it was “the great privilege of (his) career … to ignite and to lead Pittsburgh Public Schools on a transformative journey towards (sic) insuring education equity for all students” and how “proud” he is “to have accomplished so much for our students … .”

Given Hamlet’s real record in those areas – abject operational and growing academic failures — historians will be hard pressed to find anything resembling a “transformative journey” or much in the way of “accomplishment” for students.

That, too, is the tragedy of Anthony Hamlet.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).