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Stark Returns as Acting School District Superintendent

It may have seemed like a case of d?j? vu—and certainly an historical precedent— when the Wyalusing Area School Board introduced its new district superintendent, Warner Stark. This is the same guy who retired in the spring of 2001 to make way for his successor, Mike Mahon. Now Mahon is gone, and it is Stark who is succeeding him, but it's only temporary and up to a year.

Stark will stay at the helm of the district, getting paid $450 for every day he puts in, until they do hire the permanent successor to Mahon, who is now toiling in the strike-torn Abington Heights School District.

Although it is true that a retired school superintendent can only work full time for about three months before it adversely affects his retirement benefits, Stark noted this week that the School Code changes dictate that he can serve indefinitely without messing up his pension as long as an emergency situation exists. Having no chief administrator clearly qualifies as an emergency for the district, so it appears the past and present superintendent can stay on indefinitely, until the school board feels it has a qualified person in that $100,000-a-year position.

Stark took his seat with the school board at Monday night's August meeting with little fanfare. And after officially being hired with a slew of other personnel, including a Director of Special Education, a Director of Technology and 14 other professional staffers, mostly teachers, he picked up without missing a beat. He may have had three years off with some new faces on the board to work with, but that previous 16 as superintendent pretty much eradicated the learning curve.

"I'd have to say this has been the busiest summer yet," said WVHS Principal Marty Weisgold, referring to the high number of hirings, resignations and retirements he has had to deal with since June. "I've had to get more directly involved with Mr. Mahon leaving, and I don't remember having to hire more people at one time."

Indeed, just the reading by Board Vice President Bob Hanzok of the list of people added to the payroll, supplemental positions and volunteers took more time than some meetings last altogether. Hanzok, who was conducting the meeting in the absence of President Gary Miller, said he felt that reading aloud all the employment items on the agenda before voting was fitting.

"The employment of these folks is real important to the school district," Hanzok said after some 45 minutes of dealing with just the employment items on the agenda.

All of those hired were done so retroactively through July contingent on the formal approval of the board at its August meeting. The board had earlier given the okay to administrators to interview applicants and make their selections. As for Stark, whose title is now Acting Superintendent, his hiring was also retroactive to Monday, Aug. 2, putting him in the district's employ six work days before his formal approval. Stark said that, as far as he knows, superintendents may also be hired retroactively.

There was no July meeting of the school board, although they admittedly met on several occasions in executive session to deal with personnel issues. There has been some concern expressed that since only the board can formally hire a superintendent, something that must be done in public, putting him on the payroll before the vote may be viewed as a breach in protocol.

Stark, who has undoubtedly been involved in more personnel moves than anyone else in the cafeteria Monday night, said he believes everything is kosher.

Both Hanzok and Tari Kelley, on behalf of the school board, acknowledged that despite not meeting publicly in July, the board has been able to steer through this busy time, particularly with personnel matters, by holding occasional executive sessions.

Aside from approving the hiring of their Acting Superintendent for a period "no later than Aug. 1, 2005," the board also formally approved hiring the following:

—Marilyn Prehm as Director of Special Education at an annual salary of $68,000, to replace Gary Scranton, who resigned at the end of the previous school year. Scranton, by the way, will continue to work in a consultant capacity on a per diem basis;

—Charles Young as Director of Technology at $53,000 a year to succeed Joseph Kormis, who is now employed in a similar capacity by the Tunkhannock Area School District;

— Eric Zeidman, a technology specialist who would essentially be Young's assistant, who succeeds Robert Lines. Lines went with Kormis to Tunkhannock;

—The following elementary grade teachers, who will be regarded as temporary professional employees until they achieve permanent status after three years—Stacy Fusco, Bethany Leonard, Aaron Wheaton, Maria Alvarez, Sarah Harvey and Kevin Deibert. Fusco, who has been working as a permanent substitute for two years for the classroom teacher she is replacing, will be employed at Year 3/Step 3 on the teacher salary scale. The others will start at Year 1/Step 1. All the newly hired elementary teachers were in attendance at Monday's meeting at the request of Principal Joe Darrow;

—The following secondary level teachers, who will be regarded as temporary professional employees, until they achieve three years of teaching experience in the district—Eliza Fuhrey, who succeeds Diane Wilson; Diane Lichtenstein, who succeeds Raul Azpiazu; Rachel Boardman, who succeeds Orlando Bellomo, and David Lutzkanin, Jr., who succeeds John Bradley. All will start on Step 1, except Lichtenstein, who will be employed on Year 2/Step 2. Boardman, a WVHS alumnus who will take over as the new senior band director, was also awarded a supplemental contract as instructional music advisor and for summer music instruction.

One high-profile hiring, included under supplemental contracts, was Gary Otis as football head coach at a salary of $5,102, effective July 2004. Otis is also the Assistant Principal at WVHS and is the first administrator in memory to hold a head varsity coaching position at the high school. Ed Astare was hired as Athletic Director, also retroactive to July, at $4,494. Astare also teaches math at the high school level. Kelly Bradley, who has opted not to retire from her high school teaching duties, will continue to serve as Student Council Advisor and Language Department Head through June of 2006. Her total pay under those two supplemental contracts is $1,504. Other supplemental contracts awarded were Jeff Overman, WVVHS art teacher as Fine Arts Department Head, and Peg Huyck as basketball cheerleading advisor. Prior to awarding these contracts, the respective resignations of Robert Shumway as Fine Arts Department Head and Anne Gamble as Language Department Head were accepted by the board.

Still to be filled, with the resignation of Michael Perrotti, is the slot of Senior Class Advisor.

There were also two long-term teaching substitutes hired—Seth Reidenbach and Barbara Lunk—filling in for staffers taking leaves of absence. Ann Overman was also hired as a substitute personal care aide through Dec. 15 of this year. There was also a list of some two dozen people approved to volunteer coaching slots in football, cross country and soccer.

Two district teachers, Shirley Bianco and Virginia Edwards, were awarded Master's Equivalency status.

Also on the employment agenda, a new hourly pay was approved for support staff substitutes, which includes custodians and cafeteria workers. Stark reported that the substitutes had previously been paid $5.64 an hour with a bonus provision in which you received $25 for every consecutive five days work, or five dollars extra a day. That bonus provision has been dropped and the hourly rate raised to $6.32. That's an hourly pay raise of 60 cents, which would be an increase for substitutes who fill in for one to four days at a time. However, it would be a slight cut in pay from the old bonus system, about 20 cents a day, for substitutes working five consecutive days or more.

In employment matters regarding bus drivers, changes were approved in the contract between the district and the Wyalusing School Bus Contractors Association. They include changes in the fuel adjustment clause and reimbursements for extra trip mileage, including a layover fee on field trips. The district will also pay the cost and maintenance for a radio on each transportation route. Stark said they will be a little behind schedule but expect to award bids for the radios at their September meeting. The district has also agreed to pay one half the replacement cost for cameras on the school buses.

Lastly, John Huffman of Wilmot Township has decided not to continue driving his bus route after doing so for 44 years—almost as long as the school district has been consolidated. It appears his route will be absorbed by existing contractors. Huffman's letter of resignation was accepted by the board Monday night.

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