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Quakertown School Board will vote on acting superintendent's job

By Tom De Martini, WFMZ.com Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Apr 10 2014 09:46:34 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 13 2014 12:01:46 PM CDT

Quakertown superintendent

QUAKERTOWN, Pa. -

The Quakertown Community School Board announced Thursday night that it will vote April 24 on whether to offer Acting Superintendent of Schools, Dr. William Harner, a permanent position subject to a satisfactory contract.

The matter of selecting a permanent superintendent of schools has played out as a recurring drama in the Quakertown School district since Jan. 23, when Harner, the former Acting Secretary of Education for Gov. Tom Corbett, replaced Lisa Andrejko who is currently on medical leave and will retire July 1.

Directors, at Thursday's school board meeting, provided a statement detailing their decision not to proceed with a full search and vote on Harner's potential full-time appointment.

"There's a clear difference of opinion with board members on what was said (in January)," according to the board's statement, read aloud by Nancianne Edwards, the district's Director of Human Resources.

"A majority of board members and stakeholders think it would be destabilizing, destructive and not in the best interest of the school district to hold a full search at this time," the statement said.

The board's statement pointed out that a majority of directors are pleased with Harner's work, feedback from community members, teachers and staff was positive and, if a search was started now, a permanent superintendent may not be in place by July 1, leaving the school district without leadership.

The statement also noted that quality candidates would likely not apply, knowing that an interim superintendent was in the running for a permanent position.Dr. Harner, Interim Supertendent of Schools.

School Board President, Paul Stepanoff, said the board held three executive sessions in the last two weeks concerning the superintendent's position and apologized to Harner for not advising him about Thursday's board statement beforehand.

Two weeks ago, at the board's March 28 meeting, a motion to begin a full-blown search for a superintendent died in a 4-4 deadlock.

Director Bob Smith, who made the motion for a search at that meeting, was quick to point out that the statement concerning a vote on Harner's permanent employment "is not necessarily from the entire board."

"I just heard about it tonight," Smith said.

Director Anna Cattie, another proponent of a full search, again voiced her concerns.

"This is not about Dr. Harner, it's about the process being done correctly," Cattie said. "I'm concerned about the direction of the board as a whole. When we voted on a new engineer, it was one of one candidate. Now, for superintendent, we're voting for one of one candidate. I'm not even at the point of whether I'd vote for Dr. Harner. I need one more (candidate). I'd like more than one."

During the public comment period, Quakertown School District teacher, Jen Stover, chided the board for some of its recent quotes in the media concerning the search and urged directors to perform a full search.

"You say teachers are in favor of Dr. Harner. Not all teachers are in favor. Mr. (Dwight) Anderson said he's in favor of Dr. Harner and if we didn't like it that we could vote him off the board. It's appalling. It's an ethical conflict," Stover said.

Robert Leight told directors to take into consideration that Harner does not have any background in elementary or secondary school teaching.

"(Teaching) where the foundation is laid," Leight said. "I hope this board follows the pattern of sensible discussion. Mr. Stepanoff, your job is to bring this board together."

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.

He holds two Master's degrees in addition to a Ph.D.

His interim term, which pays a pro-rated sum of just more than $160,000, expires June 30.

He appeared at a special public hearing in March 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.

The board's statement noted that out of 449 surveys received (325 parents and 84) employees, the majority of respondents were in favor of a search, but more than two-thirds had a favorable impression of Harner.

New bus, school start time plan, will save $228K

A new busing plan, which will 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.

Harner, who studied the issue at the request of school directors, said freeing up school buses by moving up start times and transferring charter and private school students to those buses at a centralized location would help provide those savings.

"I did this in Cumberland Valley for the last five years. We spend $4.1 million on transportation and $1 million is spent on special education transportation. We can find ways to be more efficient," he said.

Harner said the school district is bound by law to transport students to charter and private schools located 10 miles from the district's outermost boundary.

Thirty-five non-public school students are transported by this district at this time, according to Harner.

"Some of our trips are close to Allentown. Our longest trip is into downtown Philadelphia," he said.

"If we start school earlier, athletes would miss less time. Every minute counts and we owe it to our students." he said.

Harner noted that the biggest obstacles are in-district private schools agreeing on time changes and the reaction from parents and students.

He said e-mails will be sent to all parents detailing the proposed changes.

Directors will vote on the proposal at its April 24 meeting.