Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Court action may delay Harrisburg school board appointment for months

The Harrisburg school district’s Lincoln administration building

It may be months before Harrisburg residents learn who will be the newest member of the district’s school board, as a court hearing in the matter isn’t slated to take place until late April.

Court of Common Pleas Judge John McNally has scheduled an April 23 court date to hear a citizen’s group response to a petition supporting Ralph Rodriguez, a city resident who wants to fill the vacant seat.

The group known as Concerned about the Children of Harrisburg (CATCH) responded to the petition filed on Jan. 24 on behalf of Rodriguez. As part of its response, CATCH asked the court to appoint its own preferred candidate, Cornelius Chachere.

This petition response appears to have triggered a series of events that will take several months to resolve.

CATCH now has until Feb. 21 to file its answer to Rodriguez’s petition, followed by 45 days for discovery and an April 23 court hearing.

Jayne Buchwach, a member of CATCH, said that her group opted to respond to Rodriguez’s petition, as opposed to filing an original petition in support of Chachere, after they saw that Rodriguez’s supporters had filed first.

“The response states our objections,” she said. “It also tells the court—this is who we think should be on it.”

The response touts Chachere’s qualifications and, like an original petition would, asks the court to appoint him.

“Respondents say that Mr. Chachere is the most qualified candidate that has expressed interest in being appointed by the Court for the existing vacancy on the HSD Board of Directors,” according to CATCH’s response.

To add further complexity to this issue, former school board Director James Thompson also has filed a petition with the court for the seat. Technically, this makes four candidates for the seat: Rodriguez, Chachere, Thompson and Marva Brown. In their petition, Rodriguez’s supporters mention that appointing Brown also would be acceptable to them.

The board seat became empty following the Dec. 16 death of school board Director Melvin Wilson. The remaining board members, split between Rodriguez and Chachere, failed to muster a majority of five votes to replace Wilson within a 30-day time period, throwing the matter to the court.

Buchwach said that she wasn’t concerned about having only eight members on the board for an extended period.

“The board is contentious,” she said. “So, having eight there or nine there—it really doesn’t matter.”

Meanwhile, five of the nine school board seats will be up this election this year. Next week, on Feb. 19, candidates can begin circulating nominating petitions to run. Completed petitions are due by March 12. The primary election is May 21.

CATCH has vowed to put up its own slate of candidates for the board seats.

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