WILKES-BARRE — Want to be a school district superintendent? There’s an opening, though the requirements are a bit rigid.
Want to influence the selection of the next Wilkes-Barre Area School District superintendent? Interested parties might soon get the chance to become the swing vote on a frequently divided school board, and the primary qualification is residency in the district.
The intersection of the two vacancies is ripe with history of the current, frequently fractured board. When the School Board launched a superintendent search last year after Jeff Namey announced his retirement, Maryanne Toole was board president with a thinning majority as she pushed for an outside search done with assistance from the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. Toole lost that majority in November when board member Robert Corcoran — who had openly lobbied to have his wife, already working in the district on a part-time basis, promoted — joined four other members to make in-house candidate Bernard Prevuznak superintendent.
Toole contended the search process had not been completed. Corcoran countered that a vote had been needlessly delayed and Prevuznak was the best choice. A month later at the annual reorganization meeting, Corcoran helped elect John Quinn president over Toole.
The political plot took a sharp turn when Corcoran accepted a job in Germany and moved there before the January monthly meeting. He returned at the February meeting, participating and voting via a Skype Internet connection and a laptop computer.
Toole and two others left the meeting in protest, questioning the legality of Corcoran voting after he admitted he no longer had a physical residence in the district. Board member Christine Katsock brought the question to the Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office, which agreed to investigate.
But Corcoran opted not to participate in the March or April meetings, triggering a section of the state school code that allows the board to oust a member who misses two consecutive meetings without cause. Quinn already had promised to make that move prior to Monday’s meeting, and board member Phil Latinski proposed it at the start oft he meeting. The board scheduled a special meeting April 22, in part to remove Corcoran and to advertise for candidates to finish his term, which runs until December.
If Corcoran doesn’t object and is removed April 22, the board has 30 days to agree upon a replacement; yet if the fissure he crossed to appoint Prevuznak remains, the two factions will be evenly split 4-4 when voting for any candidates. Someone has to either cross the line, or a neutral candidate both sides can accept must emerge. If the split isn’t reconciled, the choice will fall to a Luzerne County judge.
It is also an election year with 10 school board candidates — only one an incumbent — running for four open seats this May. Under such circumstances, it is common for candidates on the ballot to apply for a vacant seat, though Quinn has said he would prefer the board pick a replacement from outside of that pool.
The unexpected announcement by Prevuznak on Monday that he will vacate the superintendent post and return to his old job as deputy superintendent — he cited family health; in particular, his father is ill and his mother is the primary caregiver — means that any replacement of Corcoran could end up being a swing vote in appointing the next superintendent.
When Namey announced his retirement, Quinn and several other members of what was then the minority said they believed the superintendent should be chosen from within the district. That minority was joined by Corcoran for the 5-4 vote that gave the job to Prevuznak. At the time, five of the district’s 21 administrators had a state “superintendent letter of eligibility” required to hold the post: Prevuznak and four building principals.
There is no time limit on how long the board could take to find a new superintendent, and Prevuznak promised to fulfill the duties until that choice is made. At Monday’s meeting Toole asked if the Pennsylvania School Boards Association is still obliged to help with that search. Solicitor Ray Wendolowski said he believes the language of the original contract that brought in the PSBA last year would oblige it to continue to assist until “a permanent superintendent” is appointed, but said he would check into it.
No one on the board objected to Toole’s proposal to contact the PSBA and re-engage the organization in the new search if it can be done under the old contract.
Last year’s search netted about 17 applicants, with eight or nine interviewed and three called back for a second interview.