New KC leader must show transparency

rustration abounds over the financial mess in which the Keystone Central School District finds itself.

A projected $10 million budget deficit for 2018-2019 coming just after multiple new employee union contracts were signed, a Pre-K program begun with a bunch of hires, and significant increases in pension and benefit costs and salaries.

Apparently, no one at the time saw this coming?

That’s why there’s so much change: A new board majority, two top administrators gone, and more change to come … much of it not good in a district with a high number of special education and economically disadvantaged students.

And let’s compare: The Scranton, Pa., School District — you know, the one the state auditor general not-so-politely chastised for overspending recently — has just over 10,000 students to Keystone’s 3,950, and it’s budget deficit is projected at over $19 million amid a $157 million budget.

The Keystone board must get the district out of this mess, and it starts with strong, effective leadership — leadership that makes decisive, far-sighted decisions, that communicates clearly, and that is as transparent as can be so to rebuild trust among the district, parents and taxpayers.

An interim superintendent is to be appointed tonight after the current leader decided to not come back to work after the Christmas holiday. Based on her contract, she has tons of sick days to use before officially retiring in early March. Public sector benefits, folks.

And what’s with agreeing to pay three years worth of family health insurance coverage to professional employees who announce their retirement by March? That’s the kind of thinking that helped get KC into this mess.

Let’s take a look at contracts in advance of the district’s hunt for a new superintendent.

The Express first reviewed the contract of Kelly Hastings, who served as the district’s superintendent since 2009 up until her departure last week. Within lies a section entitled “Early Retirement Incentive,” which provides Hastings with several additional benefits assuming she met certain criteria, such as not taking a sabbatical for any non-medical reason the previous year, and that she has “at least fifteen (15) years of service in the Keystone Central School District or its previous component parts.”

In exchange, Hastings will receive:

r “The Keystone Central School District shall make a one-time payment of $2,500 to the superintendent.”

r “At the time of retirement, the employee may select one of the two options available for healthcare. The superintendent shall continue to pay the co-pay for the option selected. The board shall pay full premium above the co-pay for the Blue-Cross, Blue-Shield option selected for the superintendent. When the superintendent is eligible for Medicare or other paid insurance, district coverage will be discontinued.”

Her contract also spells out other benefits, accumulating sick days is one of them.

Let’s look, then, at Business Manager Susan Blesh’s contract, which was not posted on the district website. The Express requested a copy and received it. Her contract contains the same section, but with very different text.

Blesh’s “Early Retirement Incentive” does not require any amount of previous service, whereas Hastings required 15 years before she could trigger her incentives. Blesh could do so at any time — her only time-based criteria are to “not have taken a sabbatical leave except for medical reasons in the previous fiscal year,” and that she must “submit her retirement notice at least three months prior to resignation.”

Her one-time severance, by comparison:

r “The Keystone Central School District shall make a one-time payment of $300 a year for each year of service in the district.”

r “At the time of retirement, the Business Manager may select one of the three deductible plan options available for healthcare. The Business Manager shall continue to pay the premium co-pay in effect at the time of retirement for the tiered option selection for the corresponding deductible plan. Such co-pay shall not increase during the period of eligibility. The Board shall pay full premium above the co-pay for the tiered option selected. When the Business Manager is eligible for Medicare, District coverage will be discontinued.”

After nine years in the district, Blesh’s one-time payment would surpass Hastings.

She can announce her retirement and trigger these incentives without a year’s of service restriction. She will be covered by the district until eligible for Medicare regardless of if she takes another job and becomes eligible for other paid insurance.

As the superintendent is regarded to be the highest position in the district, it’s difficult to understand why the business manager — admittedly a high-up position which requires a skill and training to execute with proficiency — has superior retirement incentives, and why the taxpayers are going to be stuck footing the bill for these incentives for decades.

What else is being given? Of note: Neither Hastings’ nor Blesh’s contracts are on the district’s web site.

Nor is Human Resources Director Che Regina’s.

Only contracts for teachers, support professionals, secretaries, instructional and non-instructional administrators are posted.