It now appears South Middleton School Board will wait until after an appointment is made before updating the public on the progress of the search for a new superintendent.
The board-as-a-whole posted a statement last week on the district website just two days after a retired school administrator told Board President Michael Berk, “The process is dragging out.”
Dean Clepper, former principal of the W.G. Rice Elementary School, asked the board for an update during a public comment period of the Oct. 16 board meeting.
“The public after four months deserves to know where we stand in securing a superintendent to run the district,” Clepper said. “The final set of interviews was a couple weeks ago. The amount of time that has been taken is doing nothing but to hurt the school district. The public deserves to know where you are and what is going on and when a decision is finally going to be made.”
“The board will be meeting,” Berk told Clepper in response, referring to an executive session scheduled for after the Oct. 16 meeting. “Sometimes these processes take a little bit longer to do the due diligence.”
Berk and Clepper had further words on this issue outside the district office wing in the public parking lot of the Iron Forge Elementary School. The heated exchange between the two men took place after the regular board meeting but before Berk went back inside for the executive session.
“It started in July. … You knew in July,” Clepper told Berk.
“We decided to go through a process, and we are running about two weeks late,” Berk said in response. “If you question my work ethic as a board president, you are crazy. You know better than that.”
Two days later, on Oct. 18, the board posted a statement that concluded with the sentence: “We expect to provide another update as soon as we have formally appointed the next superintendent.”
The statement outlined the steps the board had taken since late summer including an advertising and recruiting period and two rounds of interviews with candidates.
“At this point, we are moving to the final phase of this process which is expected to result in the selection and appointment of the next superintendent for the South Middleton School District,” the statement reads. “The board appreciates the number of community members who have provided their thoughts at board meetings and through conversations with individual board members.”
It’s been just over three months since Al Moyer announced in mid-July that he would step down as the district superintendent effective Aug. 18. A board majority on Aug. 7 agreed to pay Templeton Advantage of Newport a maximum fee of $11,750 to conduct an expedited search for applications.
On Aug. 21, Berk outlined a schedule that called for all applications to be submitted by early September, with the first round of interviews planned for the week of Sept. 11 and the second round the week of Sept. 25.
The goal in late August was to name a new superintendent in October, but no action was taken by board members at the Oct. 2 or Oct. 16 board meetings. The board on Aug. 21 did appoint Bruce Deveney acting superintendent until a permanent replacement could be hired. Deveney is a former superintendent of the East Pennsboro Area School District.
During the Oct. 16 meeting, Clepper suggested board members consider the longevity of past administrative positions held by applicants for the South Middleton superintendent job.
“It takes a person whether principal, classroom teacher, assistant superintendent or superintendent, more than two to three years in a position to see the fruits of their labors,” Clepper said. “In doing your due diligence, I would only ask that you look at the candidates and their length of time.”
State law allows school boards to discuss personnel issues behind closed doors in executive session. However, any decision to hire a person would need to be made during a public meeting.
Unless a special meeting is called and advertised, the board has only have two more opportunities to vote on the appointment of a superintendent before three new board members are seated at the Dec. 4 meeting.
Four four-year seats are open on the South Middleton School Board heading into the Nov. 7 general election. Three of them are occupied by incumbents who have decided not to run for reelection. They are Tom Merlie, Robert Winters and Scott Witwer.
Only incumbent Stacey Knavel filed the paperwork to run for office. She is on the November ballot along with John Greenbaum, Jon Still and Denise MacIvor who earned write-in spots during the May Primary.
It has been the past practice of school boards to seat newly elected members during a reorganizational meeting held in early December after a general election. That means the outgoing South Middleton School Board members have to vote on a superintendent appointment at the Nov. 6 or the Nov. 20 board meetings if they want to have a say on the decision.
Unlike four years ago, when Moyer was in the running for superintendent, current board leadership has been quiet on the current superintendent search. On Sept. 26, The Sentinel reported that closed-door interviews would be conducted that week with an unspecified number of applicants vying for the superintendent job.
During a phone interview, board president Michael Berk would not comment on when the interviews were scheduled, the number of applicants seeking the job or the number selected for hourlong interviews before the board-as-a-whole.
Also, Berk would not comment on where the applicants are from or whether Assistant Superintendent Joseph Mancuso is in the running for the job. There has been public support for Mancuso to be appointed the superintendent.
The school board in late June 2013 appointed Al Moyer the superintendent following a much more open process that included an early June town hall meeting in which the public could ask the contenders questions.