Quakertown School Board made its decision last Thursday to hire a substitute superintendent with shouts of protest arising from the large crowd of community members and parents.
Board members came through with a 5-4 vote in favor of Dr. William E. Harner, a resident of Carlisle, Cumberland County.
Two weeks ago Quakertown’s superintendent, Dr. Lisa Andrejko, announced her immediate departure due to health reasons with full retirement scheduled for June 2014. Andrejko will be on medical leave until that date.
The district was left in a bind to seek out appropriate candidates and consulted with the Pennsylvania School Board Association (PSBA) for a list that reportedly consisted of one candidate – Harner.
Board member Bob Smith said at the meeting few candidates were interviewed for one-hour sessions and no second-round interviews were conducted.
“We were limited in what we could learn in one hour,” Smith remarked. He later voted in opposition of hiring Harner for the five-month term to end June 30, 2014.
Smith noted during the board meeting a laundry list of benefits Harner will receive as a substitute superintendent for the district.
“Personally, we’ve gone overboard and it is excessive,” he said.
Smith said that Harner’s salary, although pro-rated, is higher than what a permanent superintendent receives in other districts, coming in annually at $168,000. Harner will also receive pro-rated vacation time, sick leave allowance, mileage allowance for traveling and a monthly housing allowance.
While many audience members were in attendance for other matters up for discussion, including redistricting, several took to the podium to express their concerns on the quick decision to hire Harner.
Richland resident Stephanie Zajkowski read several headlines regarding media reports on Harner, stating he was asked by Gov. Tom Corbett to resign as interim education secretary in August, and voiced her concerns stating, “I would hope that the board would take careful consideration for such a critical position.”
Former school board president Dr. Robert Leight also attended the meeting and spoke regarding his opposition to the move.
“You are making the most important decision. I am concerned with Dr. Harner’s background and that he was never a teacher. He went from the military to a supervisory position but never taught in a classroom,” Leight said.
With concerns mounting during the meeting and audience members’ remarks, school board President Paul Stepanoff spoke regarding the process to hire Harner.
“This decision was not made in two weeks. Both internal and external candidates were sought. References were checked and I spoke with one of Dr. Harner’s previous school board presidents at length,” he said.
Stepanoff asked that a press release listing Harner’s work history be read to the public by district Community Relations Coordinator Ricki Stein.
Per that release, Harner is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and served 20 years in active military duty. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering as well as a Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Leadership from the University of South Carolina. Harner spent 15 years in education and has served as a middle and high school principal, deputy to the CEO of the Philadelphia School District, chairman of High School Re-Design for the Recovery School District of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurrican Katrina, as well as acting secretary of the Pennsylvania’s Department of Education.
He also served as a district superintendent for nine years, five of which were spent at Cumberland Valley School District.
After being named to the position, Harner was asked to take his place at the table. He spoke in detail about his plans and where his energy will be focused throughout his time as substitute superintendent.
“Thank you for your comments. I am honored to join the team and just would like to say that this whole process has been going on for over a month. My energy will be focused on turning back to traditional grading in the high school, the district’s budget and to communicate to the community in a timely matter regarding any information within the schools. I believe in community and a public process. I believe in full transparency. I’ll be in the schools tomorrow (Friday, Jan. 24) and all day. You will see me everywhere, I will be out there,” Harner said.
Harner said he will also be focused on the controversial issue of open areas and boundary changes regarding the district’s two middle schools. Although no meeting date was discussed, officials said an informational meeting open to the public is planned in the near future to discuss concerns of residents and families that may be affected by those changes.