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Sometimes it’s not so super of a job

Published May 24. 2019 12:45PM

Harry Truman once famously said, “The buck stops here.” School superintendents know this only too well.

The phrase refers to the concept that the superintendent has to make the tough and sometimes unpopular decisions and accept the ultimate responsibility for those decisions.

Of course, school board members might be inclined to push back, saying, “Wait a minute; not so fast. We have the final say.”

Certainly it is true that the superintendent serves at the pleasure of the board, but in an ideal power-sharing arrangement, the board sets and the superintendent carries out policy.

This gives the superintendent wide discretion on the interpretation of policies and practices, especially since it is he or she who is on the daily firing line. Here in the Times News coverage area, several superintendents have become embattled over one or more issues.

In Palmerton, Scot Engler and the school board agreed to a parting of the ways May 21 after he had suddenly gone on a leave of absence. The board announced that he will be on leave until June 30, when he officially resigns to become special education director at Bangor Area School District starting on July 1.

This occurred after Engler was embroiled in a nearly 18-month legal controversy involving high school Principal Paula Husar, who is now back on the job.

Engler had maintained that Husar was disruptive and had created a “toxic work environment;” Husar insisted that Engler’s efforts to get rid of her were retaliation for critical information she had given to the school board about Engler’s performance.

The school board last month reinstated Husar after she had been suspended in September 2017. The suspension came after Engler had listed more than 20 charges against her. The school board upheld nine months of Husar’s suspension, up until June 7, 2018.

This hearing played out over 15 nonconsecutive days of testimony, with each side hurling accusations at the other. As one resident commented, “This truly is not Palmerton’s finest hour.”

Engler was also party to an employment civil lawsuit that was decided in his favor in 2018 when Lauren Smith brought an action against him and two other school district defendants after she had been dismissed from her elementary teaching position.

Although there were online petitions with hundreds of signatures urging the school board not to renew Engler’s contract during the Husar episode, the board in 2017 voted 7-2 to extend his contract by five years, taking him through June 30, 2022.

A provision in that contract allows for its termination if both parties agreed, and that is what happened when Engler and the board agreed to a separation.

Jim Thorpe recently picked a new superintendent after failing to renew the contract of Dr. Brian Gasper, who had joined the district in 2014. The board unanimously hired John Rushefski, who has been superintendent of the Old Forge School District in Lackawanna County. The new superintendent takes over on July 1.

The board gave no official reason for failing to renew Gasper’s contract, choosing instead to open up the hiring process once his contract was coming to an end. Although Gasper reapplied, he was passed over.

The use of a credit card for some questionable expenses in the district is currently front and center. Gasper had defended the expenses, including lunches between him and board members at a local restaurant.

Taxpayers don’t need to feed the superintendent and board members, even though the latter serve without compensation.

Several board members also expressed frustration with the level of communication between them and Gasper and some other issues about which they declined to elaborate.

We hope Rushefski doesn’t get off on the wrong foot in Jim Thorpe, because it was disclosed that the Old Forge district is under early state audit. Rushefski said the Jim Thorpe board was aware of the audit during the interview process. Rushefski said he decided to leave the Old Forge district because of “philosophical differences” between him and the board.

The turmoil in the Pleasant Valley School District was so pervasive that a Monroe County grand jury was convened, the culmination of eight years of alleged harassment, reprisals, intimidation and other unethical behavior on the part of previous administrative officials, including then-Superintendent Carole Geary.

The grand jury recommended that charges be brought against Geary, who retired in 2017 after 30 years with the school district, including four as superintendent.

In the Allentown district, Superintendent Dr. Thomas Parker, on the job for less than two years, is caught up in critical budget issues including the floating a $10 million bond to keep the district afloat without possible state takeover.

At a recent meeting, when Parker came under attack by a board member, he fired back, saying, “If you don’t like the way the grass is cut in this school district, fire the superintendent.”

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com

Comments
In NASD, the agenda reads, "the administration recommends... to accept...", and the board accepts. Nothing to it. Sounds simple to me. The fools on the NASD board increased taxes by 2.69%
Easy... Done.
Superintendent Joseph Kovalchik of NASD should write a book on how to be smooth and get what you want, ha ha ha, and the taxpayers should select better board members.
The money these supervisors get, the road should have a few bumps in it, unless you can perfect that "Kovalchik Smooth".

Mike Meyers
Walnutport, PA
I can only speculate about the reasons the JTASD school board did not renew Dr. Gasper's contract. However, what I do know is this.... he will be missed.
Dr. Gasper was a dedicated superintendent who at all times put the best interests of the students, staff, and faculty of each building first. He was kind, professional at all times, and knowledgeable. As part of his faculty, I enjoyed working with him.I look forward to working with Mr. Rushefski and I am
confident that he will be a great asset to the Jim Thorpe Area School District. However, I did not want to pass up this opportunity to express my personal and professional opinion of Dr. Gasper. I wish him the best! Lorraine Robins Penn/Kidder Campus

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