Southeastern PA

Quakertown School Board squabbles over superintendent search process

Motion to start immediate search ends in deadlock

QUAKERTOWN, Pa. - The Quakertown Community School Board, in the midst of a community-based survey program to decide if a full-blown search for a new superintendent of schools is warranted, squabbled over the subject at length Thursday night.

Dr. William Harner, the former Acting Secretary of Education for Gov. Tom Corbett, took over the reins of Quakertown schools on Jan. 23, replacing Lisa Andrejko who is currently on medical leave and will formally retire on July 1.

At that time, school directors hired Dr. Barry Galasso, executive director of Bucks County Intermediate Unit #22, as a consultant to gather input and insight on whether a superintendent search was indeed warranted.

Last week, Harner appeared at a special public hearing and answered wide-ranging questions submitted by borough residents ranging from student achievement and community relations to future initiatives and budget.

Following the session, online surveys were sent out for residents to provide feedback. Galasso said the process was a way for the board to gather information and that a search for superintendent was not in progress.

A faction of the Quakertown Community School Board obviously doesn't agree with that course of action.

On Thursday night, during school board president Paul Stepanoff's update on the process, director Robert Smith made a motion for Bucks County Intermediate Unit #22 to immediately begin a superintendent search for the Quakertown Community School District.

Director Joyce King seconded the motion, which started a full-blown discussion on the matter and mandated a vote.

The motion eventually died in a 4-4 deadlock with directors Smith, King, Fern Strunk and Anna Cattie voting in favor of the motion.

School Board President Stepanoff and directors Dwight Anderson, Stephen Ripper and Charles Shermer voted against the motion.

School Director, Gary Landes, was absent from the meeting.

Discussion on the matter among directors prior to the vote was terse and to the point.

"In January, we agreed that a full search would be done and here we are, almost in April and nothing has been done," Smith said. "I want to make it clear that this is not about Dr. Harner, but we have to fulfill the wishes of the district community and have more than one person to look at," Smith said.

Stepanoff said that stopping the community-based search process in the middle was a no confidence vote on Galasso's advice and sent a message to people that took part in the surveys that their opinions didn't matter.

"Dr. Galasso said we shouldn't do a search now. It's not a race," Stepanoff said. "You've got to be sure you've got the right person and test the waters. It doesn't have to be a five person race. The winner might not be the best person for the district."

Directors Anderson and Ripper were vocal in their support of Harner.

"We should complete the process and then vote for our permanent superintendent," Anderson said. "If I could vote for Dr. Harner right now, I would. If people don't like it, they can remove me from the board."

Ripper said teachers and parents he's spoken to throughout the district are overwhelmingly in favor of Dr. Harner.

"The teachers who teach the children are overwhelmingly in favor of him," Ripper said. "Who else are we going to get, a bunch of edu-crats spouting Common Core? He's doing the job that needs to be done and we need to accept this man. If we don't it's going to be a huge mistake."

King, Cattie and Strunk said the board never agreed that it wouldn't perform a new superintendent search.

"A superintendent is like a CEO and the taxpayers are shareholders," Cattie said. "This is important and I don't know how we cannot do a search. I like what I see (from Harner) but it doesn't mean we shouldn't do a search."

"This is a different situation," Strunk said. "We're essentially looking at hiring someone who we gave a one-hour interview for as an interim. Hopefully, (Harner) will apply. We gave our word we would do a search and see who is out there."

With the motion dead, school directors will revert back to the original plan for the time being, which is for Galasso to gather information from the surveys to present to the board, which will eventually make a decision on how to proceed.

A 2.1 percent tax increase likely

Business Administrator, Robert Riegel, said a 2.1 percent tax increase, which will translate into $80 for the average taxpayer, is likely for the 2014-15 school budget.

The 2.1 percent hike is the maximum by which the school district can raise the tariff and Reigel said Quakertown will not ask the state for exceptions.

The tax increase, a 3.02 mill hike that places total school tax millage at 146.94 mills, will raise an additional $1.16 million dollars.

The remaining $2.3 million budget gap will be filled by the school district's fund balance.

Reigel said the district's $3.36 million spending plan is a 3.6 percent increase over the 2013-14 budget.

He said salaries in the district are rising by $778,000 and retirement costs will increase by about $1 million.

Reigel said the erosion of real estate taxes by about $500,000 have also eaten into the budget.

"So, we've got another 30 days to come up with $1.1 million in cuts to avoid a tax increase," said Sherer, who called for finance committee meetings to examine the issues.

Directors are scheduled to approve a preliminary final budget at the April 24 school board meeting and pass a final budget at their June 12 meeting.

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