Board tables action on superintendent contract, school closing

BLOSSBURG – Following an executive session before a regular meeting Monday, Southern Tioga School Board President Ivan Erway announced the decision had been made to remove the action items from the agenda – namely, the vote on the contract of Superintendent Keith Yarger, as well as the personnel manager contract action item.

Yarger’s five-year contract is not up until June 30, 2014.

At the announcement, the approximately 200 people in attendance broke out in loud and sustained applause.

Before the board could start moving through the rest of the agenda, several people spoke about what they saw as the board’s attempt to push through an action item without discussing it publicly, namely the extension of Yarger’s contract.

John Ritter, of Sullivan Township, told the board that it “seems to me that any agenda item to be voted on, shouldn’t that be brought up in the work session and discussed publicly before it is brought up for a vote?” also to loud applause.

“Also I would like to know who decided to put it on the agenda? The board as a whole, one? Five? Who decided?”

Again there was no answer from the board, but loud applause from the audience.

In another controversial decision, the board agreed to change the way it votes on school closing measures, to make sure there is one school in each community, an action that Joseph Widger, of Sullivan Township, said amounted to the board “railroading” its will on future board members.

“A lot of these people sitting here didn’t know about this until today. I question if it is legal what you are doing. You won’t answer. You want to hamstring the hands of the new people coming in on the school board and it’s not fair to them or the taxpayers. If you run your household the way you run the board, you are in trouble too,” he said.

Following a presentation by Yarger on two scenarios to close either North Penn High School or Liberty High School, the board voted to table any action on either of them.

Both scenarios would result in a necessary tax hike per year of nearly 3 percent and neither one would avoid large deficits by the 2015-16 school year, even with annual tax increases and the layoff of multiple staff.

Interim Business Manager Brian Driscoll said he could not recommend either option to the board.

Steve Guiliaume, of Liberty Township, told the board by tabling any action on the options that they were “kicking that can down the road and waiting ’til the election to let that board figure out what to do.”

“You need to start working together. Please put something forward that makes sense,” he said.

Sharon Miller, of Trout Run, commented on the third-day enrollment figures released Friday showing a loss of 117 students this year, which will cost the district about $4,500 per diem per student, according to Driscoll.

“That’s about a half million dollars we are losing, and our cyber school bill will be higher also, so we are looking at a deficit of a half-million dollars-plus in our budget before anything else,” she said.

She asked the board what the plan was to make up that money in the budget and got no response from the board – but applause from the audience.

Robin Stetter, of Liberty, pointed out that the district isn’t doing anything to find out why it is losing so many students, prompting board member Frank Kollar to make a motion to survey students who left the district in a required exit interview, which the board approved pending input from its solicitor Chris Lantz on its legality.

A special board meeting was scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 8 prior to the regular work session to further discuss the options.