Months of divisive wrangling within the Quakertown Community School District Board of Directors finally ended Thursday night when directors voted by a 5-3 margin to offer acting Superintendent of Schools Dr. William Harner the position permanently.
Harner, the former Acting Secretary of Education for Gov. Tom Corbett, replaced Lisa Andrejko in January.
Andrejko, who is currently on medical leave, will formally retire in July.
Harner was tapped as the school district's chief effective July 1 for a three-to-five year term, subject to the negotiation of an employment agreement with the district solicitor, which must be approved by directors.
Harner currently earns a pro-rated salary of $160,000 through June 30 as interim superintendent.
Board chairman Paul Stepanoff, along with vice-chairman Gary Landes and directors Dwight Anderson, Stephen Ripper and Charles Shermer voted for Harner's hire.
Directors Anna Cattie, Joyce King and Robert Smith cast dissenting votes. Director Fern Strunk, was absent from the meeting.
Dissenting directors again vented their frustration with the process of selecting a new school district chief, which was done without interviewing other candidates. It clearly continues to rankle them.
"This is nothing against Dr. Harner," Cattie said. "I haven't gotten to yes or no, because of a lack of a process."
Smith said directors never met as an entire body to vet Harner's body of work.
"Time will tell. As a school board, we've been graded on what we've done with this process and it's an F," he said.
King took a swipe at Stepanoff, stating that she'll quite likely receive an e-mail chastising her for not voting for Harner's hire.
"I have a responsibility to the people who elected me," she said. "Disregarding a search is not following best practices."
However, directors who supported Harner were just as vocal in their opinions.
"There is no better way to certify someone for a job than do it. That's better than any interview," Anderson said.
Ripper was even more adamant.
"It's not uncommon for an interim to become a superintendent," he said. "We're charged to find the person most suitable and learned in all areas for the community," he said. "There was nothing underhanded or deceptive about it. I've sat here month after month and listened quietly to unfounded charges and accusations. People have been divisive."
Stepanoff did not make any public comment before or after the vote.
Accusations of "lack of integrity" and "compromised ethics" were hurled at the board by resident Deanna Dean during the public comment period.
Dean called the lack of a search a "huge conflict of interest" and accused the board of "looking the other way" concerning Harner's somewhat checkered tenure as superintendent of the Cumberland Valley School District and his short term in Corbett's cabinet.
Robert Leight told directors that they are dysfunctional, polarized and should work together.
"The wounds made here will heal, but the scars will last a long time," Leight said.
Leight told Harner that he "endured what no one should have to," in order to obtain the superintendent position.
Harner, a Carlisle resident, is a 1978 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
He served a 20-year stint in the military, retiring with the rank of lieutenant colonel.
He served as a middle school and high school principal prior to taking superintendent positions at the Greenville County School District in South Carolina and the Cumberland Valley School District, near Harrisburg.
Harner appeared at a special public hearing in March and answered wide-ranging questions submitted by residents, ranging from student achievement and community relations to future initiatives and the district's budget.
Directors approved new school start times
Starting in August, Quakertown High School students will arrive to class earlier, while middle school students will begin somewhat later.
Directors approved a plan that will have Quakertown High School students starting the school day at 7:10 a.m.
Middle school students will begin classes at 8 a.m. Elementary school students will start school at 9 a.m.
The changes were made to increase academic time for Upper Bucks County Tech School students and save money on busing costs for non-public and charter school students.
The new busing plan, which move up school start times at the high school and middle school levels while eliminating van and mini-bus runs for charter school and private school students, would save the district more than $228,000.
Non-public and charter students, who must be bused to their schools by the district, will be driven to one central location first and then taken to their respective schools, eliminating additional bus runs.
Another reason the change was made, Harner said, was that 11-, 12- and 13-year olds were outside in the dark during the winter waiting for a 6:18 a.m. bus pickup.
Harner said more students than ever from the district are slated to attend Upper Bucks County Tech School starting in August.