KCSD gets substitute superintendent, new board member
MILL HALL — Last night, the Keystone Central School Board took two large steps toward combating the persistent issues facing the school district.
They unanimously hired Dr. Alan Lonoconus as substitute superintendent.
And they unanimously selected Boise P. Miller, of Castanea, as the school board representative for Region VIII, which covers Flemington Borough and Castanea and Bald Eagle Townships.
Miller is filling the seat of Jeff Johnston, who resigned from the board last month. Ironically, it is the same seat Miller vied for against Johnston in 2015 and lost. He will be sworn in as a board member on Thursday before the school board meeting.
Dr. Lonoconus, of Catawissa, could not attend Tuesday night’s meeting due to a class he teaches in Allentown. He has previously served as the superintendent of Southern Columbia School District, Shikellamy School District, Great Valley School District and as the acting superintendent of Bloomsburg Area School District.
On par with past substitute superintendents, Dr. Lonoconus will be paid $450 a day to work three days a week until March 12, when he will be promoted to interim superintendent, transitioning to work five days a week at $500 a day. March 12 is also the day current Superintendent Kelly Hastings, who is on paid leave and did not return to work after winter break, is set to retire.
Board President Charles Rosamilia said Dr. Lonoconus will start as substitute superintendent today. He also said the March 12 change is to give Dr. Lonoconus time to finish out his current engagements.
The mood Tuesday night was lighter than in recent school board meetings. Miller chatted casually with Rosamilia when he first took the stand for his interview.
“Mr. Rosamilia, I feel like you should be sitting beside me,” he said.
“We intend this to be like a congressional hearing,” Rosamilia joked back.
Director of Human Resources Che Regina conducted most of the interview. He asked Miller why he was interested in serving on the school board.
“This has been something I’ve pursued in the past and was unsuccessful,” said Miller. “I feel that I can bring something to the board and there is a vacancy. I feel like I am uniquely qualified.”
Miller cited his work in the information technology department at Lock Haven University since 2001, right before his 2002 graduation with a Bachelor of Science in computer science, as important for propelling the district forward. He currently serves as director of technology infrastructure at LHU.
As a lifelong resident of Clinton County, who grew up in Sugar Valley but moved to Castanea in 2002, Miller said he was passionate about getting the school district to function well.
Miller said he brings an important, different perspective to the school board because of his background in higher education.
“I think that in higher ed we tend to see educational trends maybe a little sooner than (when) it gets into the secondary and primary levels,” Miller said. “Mainly that’s a matter of funding…we do tend to see greater ability to move new directions and see those resources before it happens in the school districts.”
He also addressed the function of the school board.
“The board, I believe, is the governing entity. Effectively the administration is at the behest of the board…The administration’s job is to execute the policy that is set by the board,” he said. “If the administration is the executive branch, the board is the legislative branch.”
He then joked that in education, there is no judicial branch, at which board members laughed.
Regina asked Miller to talk about what the relationship between the superintendent and the board should be.
“Personally, I don’t know that there’s any particular preconceived notions of how things are intended to be,” he said. “The board has had a lot of turnover recently…the new superintendent hopefully has some idea of what’s going on.”
He added that he hoped the substitute superintendent would be able to approach some of the board’s issues with a constructive, outsider perspective.
In light of the often tense, opinionated community reaction to the KCSD budget problems, Regina asked how Miller would handle individual complaints.
“We know that a lot of people have a lot of opinions about a lot of things,” Miller said with a laugh.
Accordingly, he said the nature of the complaint would determine how he would handle it.
“The first thing to do would be to find out as much information as possible and determine the validity of the complaint,” he said. “If it’s found to have standing, then (I would) follow up with the administration and the employees… it may have to be brought in front of the entire board or a committee of the board.”
Finally, Regina reached the crux of the interview.
“As you know we have many challenges,” he said. “What challenges do you see the school board is facing at this time?”
“The number is seven, followed by a lot of zeros,” said Miller, to laughter from the board. “And that would be our current situation.”
“I don’t have all the answers here,” he said.
But he did say there was a lot of due diligence and planning not done over the past few months. He also mentioned the importance of labor relations in mitigating employer-employee conflict.
“There’s valid issues on both sides and the key is to work through those,” he said.
He also said the geographic distribution of the school district presented some challenges.
“I gotta figure it’s probably close to 100 miles” from one end of the district to the other, he said.
He said there were many different needs the school board had to meet.
“We’ve gotta figure out how to best address those needs,” he said.
After the meeting, he expanded on his position on the biggest issues that affect KCSD.
“The budget,” he said. “Quite frankly, we’ve got a year. Next year were out of money–bankrupt–it has to be fixed now. I’m not going to try and soften it.”
Continuing with the interview, Regina asked Miller to finish the sentence, “My greatest hope for the future of the Keystone Central School District is…”
“Continual, measurable improvement,” said Miller. “We’ll never be perfect; we don’t want to go backwards.”
Miller said in order to move forward, the board needed to play an active role in overseeing the budget.
“The board then needs to look at that proposed budget, see that it’s fiscally sound, if there are numbers that don’t work there, leaving large deficits then that needs to be addressed,” he said. “Everything the board does is essentially a compromise…you try to do the best for everyone that you can.”
School board member Roger Elling then said he wanted Rosamilia to ask Miller an important question.
“You are definitely heads and tails better than all the other applicants,” said Rosamilia. “There is a term we want you to define for us. What is a ‘productively disruptive force’? You may recognize those words.”
“They’re my own words,” said Miller. “I expect there to be continual change. Unless you have a catalyst of change…progress is not made.”
He said he liked to think of himself as a catalyst of change. He then referenced a quote he thought was appropriate for the situation.
“‘Stagnation breeds disease,'” he said. “You can’t stay in one place…to stay fresh, you need to keep moving. I’ve never gone into anything that I’ve never shaken things up.”
Miller then addressed a final concern from a community member about the cost of change.
“Not all change has to cost money,” he said. “A lot of times forward change” doesn’t have to cost money.
He said it was possible to replace old systems with newer systems for a fraction of the cost, and that people should not shy away from positive, future change because of budget worries.
“Making change does not necessarily mean spending more money,” he said.
Seven school board members were physically present at Tuesday’s meeting, and school board member Wayne Koch participated by phone.
Community member Heather Haigh was also present at the meeting and announced that Central Mountain Middle School was hosting its band, orchestra and jazz band concert tonight at 7 p.m. in the CMMS auditorium.