Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

All Heat No Fire: Divided Harrisburg school board delays vote on superintendent’s future.

The Harrisburg school board

The former president of the Harrisburg school board sparred tonight with the man who unseated her, alleging that he failed to inform her of a last-minute agenda item.

School board Vice President Danielle Robinson, who served as president until she was ousted in a vote last week, called for the board to table a resolution that would start the process of hiring a new superintendent.

Robinson said that the board failed to follow proper procedure and discuss the resolution in committee. She accused new board President Judd Pittman of adding it to the agenda without telling her.

“This board deserves the respect of not having something slipped in last minute, because you know everything else on this agenda has gone through a committee,” Robinson said.

She claimed that she heard about the resolution on social media before she heard about it from the board.

Pittman said he reached out to Robinson to discuss the matter. She called him a liar and said he never followed through to tell her about it.

The exchange foreshadowed the contentious debate that will likely take place this spring, when the board will consider renewing the contract of current Superintendent Sybil Knight-Burney. Her four-year contract, which carries a $179,208 annual salary, is set to expire in June.

The board can renew Knight-Burney’s contract for another four years or open the position to a competitive hiring process in which she can participate. The state public school code says the board must start the hiring process at least 90 days prior to the day her contract expires, but Harrisburg’s policy requires 150 days.

Robinson also argued that the board should take its time with the resolution for the sake of three members who were sworn in last week. Robinson said that they needed more time to make an informed decision about Knight-Burney’s tenure. Board member Matt Krupp objected.

“It’s unfortunate that this board did not discuss this prior, but I think our members are all well informed and all pay attention enough to vote on this,” Krupp said. “We don’t need to wait.”

The board voted 6-3 in favor of Robinson’s motion, moving the resolution into a committee for discussion. Board members will determine then whether or not to include the item on a future agenda.

The board also tabled a resolution concerning sanitation employees who are represented by the AFSCME union. The resolution would “provide the district with the option” to transfer sanitation workers from the district payroll to the payroll of Aramark, a contractor. AFSCME representative Nichelle Chivis claimed the resolution would violate the collective bargaining law.

“If this goes through, I will file charges,” Chivis said. “The district is attempting to circumvent its responsibilities under the collective bargaining agreement.”

Interim Chief Financial Officer Jim Snell said the item was meant to apply only to AFSCME employees who left the union and sought part-time employment with Aramark.

“I will readily admit that it’s worded very awkwardly, but the intent is the intent,” Snell said.

Board member Percel Eiland motioned to send the resolution back to the Budget, Finance and Facilities Committee to amend the language and avoid a contractual violation. The motion passed 8-1.

Also today: Video surfaces of Superintendent Sybil Knight-Burney speaking at a pro-school voucher rally. 

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