August 15, 2023

Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial Board: Superintendent claims the spoils of the Bucks County culture wars

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While some superintendents have found themselves butting heads with new conservative school board majorities, Abram Lucabaugh has found it lucrative to back the right wing.

With no warning and little public debate, the Republican majority on the Central Bucks school board voted 6-3 to give Superintendent Abram Lucabaugh a new five-year contract and increase his salary by nearly 40%.

Never mind that Lucabaugh’s existing contract had three years to go, or that the district has 130 other open positions that need to be filled before school starts next month.

Lucabaugh, a former principal with a doctorate in educational leadership from Delaware Valley University, is set to receive a base salary of $315,000 to oversee 17,000 students. Across Pennsylvania, only Philadelphia Superintendent Tony B. Watlington Sr., who leads a district with an enrollment of 197,288, has a higher salary at $340,000.

The board justified this by lauding Lucabaugh’s educational vision. But the board’s idea of an educational vision is rather alarming.

In December 2021, Central Bucks was the focus of a New York Times report detailing the culture wars that have overtaken school districts across the country as school board meetings have become bogged down in politicized debates about mask mandates, critical race theory, and transgender bathrooms.

In July 2022, the school board voted 6-3 to adopt a policy aimed at removing books from libraries that contain “sexualized content,” despite claims of censorship and a petition opposing the policy signed by more than 3,000 people.

In October 2022, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal complaint alleging the Central Bucks School District had created a hostile environment for LGBTQ students. That same month, the U.S. Department of Education opened an investigation into allegations of a toxic educational environment in the district.

In December 2022, the school district hired former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain at a rate of $940 an hour to examine the allegations in the ACLU complaint. McSwain, a former Republican candidate for governor, came with his own baggage of being hostile toward the LGBTQ community. In a Facebook post he later deleted, McSwain referred to a West Chester school’s sexual identity club as “leftist political indoctrination,” and pledged: “This ends when I’m governor.”

In January, the board voted 6-3 to prohibit the display of Pride flags in classrooms. That move prompted students, teachers, and parents to protest outside the schools, sparking more negative attention for the district.

Also in April, McSwain and a fellow law partner hired at $640 an hour delivered a report — without speaking to any students who alleged bullying — that found Central Bucks did not discriminate against students. ACLU of Pennsylvania Legal Director Witold “Vic” Walczak called the report a “one-sided hit job.”

There’s more, but you get the idea. Lucabaugh backed them all the way. Now he reaps his reward. But the Inquirer editorial board is unimpressed.

All and all, Lucabaugh has presided over an exhausting and divisive couple of years that have saddled taxpayers with unnecessary legal bills and tarnished the reputation of a highly regarded school district. For that, he got a 40% raise.

When tallying the winners and losers of the Central Bucks School District culture wars, Lucabaugh is clearly coming out ahead of the students he should be serving.

Read the full editorial here. 

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