Wolf replaces Larry Wittig with new education chief following sex scandal

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Karen Farmer White, of Pittsburgh, takes over as chair of the state Board of Education. Her predecessor, Larry Wittig, resigned after accusations of sexual misconduct.

Gov. Wolf has appointed a new chair of the State Board of Education following an Inquirer and Daily News report into accusations of sexual misconduct by the former board chairman.

Karen Farmer White, a Pittsburgh education consultant and current board member, replaces Larry Wittig, who had chaired the board since 2011.

Gov. Wolf accepted Wittig’s resignation on Thursday after the newspapers reported that a number of women said he had pursued sexual relationships with them when they were teenagers.

“Karen Farmer White is one of Pennsylvania’s most respected educational leaders, and I look forward to her contributions to the board as we continue to make progress to ensure our young people are career-ready to become the leaders of tomorrow,” Wolf said in a statement Friday morning.

Farmer White, a founding member of the Pennsylvania Conference for Women, is the first African American chair of the state Education Board.

Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera said: “Karen Farmer White has been a champion and advocate for students in her hometown of Pittsburgh, and for every hometown across the commonwealth. Both her personal and professional endeavors reflect her tireless efforts to improve opportunities for all.”

On Wednesday, the newspapers reported that several women said they met Wittig, 68, in the early 1980s when they were rowers for Harriton High School in Lower Merion and he was a member of the Vesper Boat Club on Boathouse Row, where they practiced.

They said Wittig, who was married and in his early 30s at the time, made sexually charged jokes, took them to nightclubs, and hit on them.

Annette DeMichele, 53, said Wittig took her to a nude beach when she was 17, starting what would become a year-and-a-half sexual relationship. DeMichele said she considered it consensual at the time but, given their age difference and the fact that he was her coach, now feels that she was coerced.

She said the relationship continued when she went on to attend the University of Pennsylvania, where she rowed and Wittig coached. Wittig resigned from the school in 1984 amid an ombudsman’s investigation into, in part, his relationship with DeMichele.

Wittig said on Tuesday that he “categorically” denied the allegations. On Thursday, he told the Lehighton Times News that he had sex with one of the women, but denied it had been “an ongoing relationship.”

“It was a lapse in judgment at one time,” he said.

Another woman, who asked to not be named, said she had a nearly two-year sexual relationship with Wittig that started when she was 16 and he was 29.

Wittig was charged in 1970 with raping a 15-year-old friend of his sister’s. A Schuylkill County jury found him not guilty. Wittig said the girl lied because her family was trying to extort money from his. She recently told the Inquirer and Daily News that she stands by her account.

Wittig, a Republican who has served as president of the Tamaqua Area school board since 1995, was removed Thursday from the president’s leadership council at Drexel University, his alma mater. Officials at Philadelphia University-Thomas Jefferson University have requested his resignation from the board of trustees.

Farmer White, a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and the Leadership Pittsburgh program, is a two-term member of the state Education Board and its Council of Basic Education. She is a former vice president of education at WQED Pittsburgh Multimedia and executive director of the Program to Aid Citizen Enterprise. She previously served as managing director of Mesirow Financial Corp. and has held administrative and faculty positions at the Community College of Allegheny County.