Keystone begins quest for new superintendent

Administrator will face district stressed by budget

MILL HALL — The hunt is on at Keystone Central School District.

The target: A new superintendent; one who will be up to the challenging task of managing and bringing to heel a district stressed under the weight of its budget, burdened by burgeoning pension and health-care costs, and fighting to maintain a high quality of education despite budget cuts.

Speaking of cuts, the new superintendent will also have to quickly be brought up to speed and form opinions on a citizen task force’s multiple options to cut $10 million, or 13 percent of the total projected $82.3 million, deficit-ridden 2018-19 budget.

Among those options: Potential school closings and redistricting, a pay freeze and pay cuts, eliminating Pre-K, removing the common prep time for teachers outside of the student day, ending various programming including electives, and reducing staff size through attrition.

Current Superintendent Kelly Hastings announced in early August that she will retire in March of 2018.

Hastings has served as superintendent since 2009, and was a Keystone curriculum director prior to that role. She took over from interim Superintendent John DiNunzio, but wasn’t actually an original candidate for the job. The board turned to Hastings after interviewing 11 candidates, ultimately writing them all off.

Hastings has suffered a tumultuous career as superintendent as the district has struggled under low student test scores, problems from No Child Left Behind and Common Core and the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Shortly after her hiring as superintendent, the investigation of ex-Penn State football coach Sandusky began. Sandusky had been volunteering as an assistant football coach at Central Mountain High School. In 2009, a 15-year-old CMHS student told school officials that Sandusky had touched him inappropriately, sparking an investigation, prosecution, court awards and unprecedented change at Penn State.

Despite these difficulties, Hastings gained a new five-year contract on Nov. 6, 2014, by way of a 6-3 vote. That contract began July 1, 2015, and was to run until 2020. Her base salary in 2015 was $124,913, and was set to increase by 3 percent on each July 1 during the contract.

Hasting’s 2017 salary is $136,164, though that will be pro-rated once she retires.

Her contract also spells out an early retirement incentive, requiring that she must not have taken a sabbatical leave, except for medical reasons, in the previous fiscal year.

The incentive allows her to select one of two health-care insurance options and to be covered until she’s 65 or Medicare eligible.

She can pay the monthly, low premium other eligible retirees pay, while the district pays the premium above the co-pay. She also cannot take a position with another Pennsylvania public school district.

Over the last few months, multiple board members and board member candidates have stated their priorities for the new superintendent.

Tracy Smith, who won a full term to the board in a non-contested race in November after filling Albert Jones’s vacant seat, was asked the same question, and said, “the superintendent should be willing to set an example of open and honest communication among administration, teachers, staff, students and the community. He or she needs to understand that they are looked to by the community to be proactive in all aspects of running the district. Ideally, the new superintendent will have done his or her research on the current state of our district and will come ready to make the necessary decisions to get us back on track and carry us into the future in a positive direction.”

Billie Rupert, who also won a full term following an uncontested race after filling Greg Strouse’s vacant seat, said during her interview in August that she wanted “someone confident and willing to learn, someone who is open to discussion. Nobody knows everything, so I would encourage them to be a person who is willing to work with the board, while still being knowledgeable in what they’re doing.”

New board members Eric Probert and Jen Bottorf also had comments on their expectations for the new superintendent, offered during the election cycle, when they were still just candidates.

“An effective superintendent will show strong leadership skills. I would expect a superintendent to be fair and supportive when dealing with the teachers of the school,” said Probert. “A good superintendent should establish realistic educational goals for the district and work with principals, teachers, and staff to ensure resources are available to reach those goals. Strong and effective communication skills would be an absolute must have. As a board member I would be focused on looking outside of the district for our next superintendent. A good candidate with fresh ideas and strategic thinking is what we need to right the ship.”

Bottorf’s ideal superintendent would be “someone from outside of our area…as our next superintendent. Someone who has not been tainted from our current budget situation. Obviously, the person needs to have fiscal responsibility. The superintendent sets the tone and direction of where our district is headed. I think a great superintendent is someone who is not afraid to set bold goals and make a commitment to achieving them. A superintendent needs to have great communication skills and be an instructional leader. Our next superintendent needs to develop an outstanding relationship with our community.”

During the election cycle, candidate Greg Mayes, who lost in the race against Bottorf, said he wanted “someone who is able to lead by example. Being the top position in the district, those under you will tend to follow your lead. We also need someone who does not have a personal agenda and whose perspective considers education but also considers fiscal responsibility. There has to be a realistic balancing of the two when you consider 14,796 households and 3,975 students in the district. Approximately three-fourths of these taxpayers do not have children currently in the district but have very legitimate concerns with respect to costs, especially our senior citizens.”

Former Board President James “Butch” Knauff, who lost a hotly contested race to Probert in November, said that to him, “The most important quality will be finding a superintendent that will be both fair and firm with the staff, is fully aware of the burdens placed on the taxpayers of KCSD and is committed to providing the best education to all of our students. To make KCSD the best district in the Commonwealth, this person will have to help bring the district together.”

He continued, “We hear about low morale, about distrust, about many negative issues within the district. Whether these perceptions are true or not they all distract from the image we are trying to display. The new superintendent will need to be an educational expert, with a business mindset who will be able to push us forward to become the best.”

These comments and more will now come to bear as the district works to find a new leader.

The school district has officially posted its notice of employment on its website. It reads as follows:

“The Keystone Central School District (KCSD) is a school environment that fosters respect between and among students, faculty, staff, parents, school leaders, and community members. This community of learners is dedicated to high levels of academic achievement through curricular and instructional practices that meet the diverse needs of all students. Through the development of open communication systems and a spirit of collaboration, the educational system at KCSD has become a source of shared accountability and positive outcomes for all stakeholders.

“A graduate of the Keystone Central School District is one who thinks critically and creatively, exhibits tolerance and respect for others, behaves responsibly and ethically, and embraces technology as it impacts the local and global society. The District has a $77.1 million budget for 2017-18. The Keystone Central School District is seeking a dynamic educational leader with excellent communication skills; a proven track record of improved student achievement; experience with CTE program development; an understanding of special education law; fostering collaborative relationships with faculty, parents and community; fiscal leadership; an understanding of and commitment to the district; a focus on equity for all students; integrity, and visionary leadership. The new superintendent will exemplify the District’s vision and shared values.”

Meanwhile, candidates can apply online at www.kcsd.k12.pa.us.

A review of applications will begin Jan. 12, 2018.

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