The Harrisburg School Board gained a new member tonight when it appointed Patricia Whitehead-Myers, a former board member and charter school employee, to serve a two-year term.
Whitehead-Myers fills the seat vacated by Percel Eiland, who resigned in June after just six months on the board. She was sworn in tonight after a three-and-a-half hour board meeting.
As a board director from 2010-16, Whitehead-Myers was one of the first members of the reformed school board that wrested the district back from mayoral control. Former Mayor Stephen Reed took direct oversight of the school district in 2000, the first arrangement of its kind in the commonwealth.
Mayor Linda Thompson assumed his role briefly in 2010 before community members reconstituted the elected board of directors.
Whitehead-Myers served with board vice president Danielle Robinson from 2012-16. Robinson nominated her tonight, and voted with board directors Tyrell Spradley, Melvin Wilson, Lionel Gonzalez, and Ellis Roy to secure her appointment.
The former Premiere Arts and Science Charter School employee beat out four other candidates for the seat: Cornelius Chacere, a non-profit director; Claude Phipps, a retired business executive and community leader; Steven Williams, a researcher for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives; and James Thompson, an architect and fellow board veteran.
Chacere had the endorsement of the Harrisburg Education Association president Jody Barksdale. After Williams was knocked out in the first round of voting, Chacere secured votes from board directors Carrie Fowler, Brian Carter and president Judd Pittman.
Phipps did not receive a nomination, and Thompson was unable to appear at the special meeting for an interview. Robinson, Spradley, Wilson, Gonzalez, and Roy voted to deny Thompson the right to interview via telephone.
Just before adjourning, the board president was alerted that Whitehead-Myers’ job at a charter school in the district disqualified her from board service. During a last-minute recess, Whitehead-Myers assured the board that she no longer worked at Premiere Arts and Science. She was sworn in shortly after.
Whitehead-Myers told a reporter that she stopped working at Premiere Arts and Science at the end of the most recent school year. But a school website still lists her as an employee.
After filling the vacant seat, the board tackled an agenda that included dozens of personnel and fiscal actions. Some board directors and members of the public objected to last-minute amendments to the personnel actions, which were in flux as of late this afternoon.
The district is in the process of shuffling employees after eliminating 52 positions in its most recent budget cycle. Some union teachers are still waiting on reassignments, but the district did determine today that it could avoid teacher furloughs.
Fowler motioned to table all of the personnel items at the start of the meeting. She argued that directors and HEA teachers had not had time to review the outcome of human resources meetings that lasted late into this afternoon.
Copies of the updated personnel actions were not available to the public at tonight’s meeting.
The board voted 5-3 against Fowler’s motion, but later decided to postpone the votes anyway.
After Robinson motioned to table a single item that reduced a full-time administrative post to part-time, Fowler insisted that they should exercise the same scrutiny on personnel actions affecting teachers and support staff.
“This is a slap in the face to our teachers,” Fowler said. “I made this motion at the very start of this meeting.”
Pittman agreed, and after a series of procedural missteps, Robinson amended her motion so it would postpone all personnel actions. The board passed it in a rare unanimous vote.
The employees awaiting personnel action include scores of summer school teachers. But HR Director Curtis Tribue said that none of their appointments, reassignments or resignations will be interrupted, since the board can retroactively approve them at an Aug. 6 meeting.
The board also shot down a resolution that would have appointed a professional search firm to find qualified candidates to replace its business manager and chief financial officer.
Robinson said that the resolution was unnecessary, since the jobs were publicly posted on the district’s website.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education [PDE] requested in June that the district find a permanent, full time CFO and business manager. Current CFO Jim Snell works part-time, and business manager Bilal Hasan lacks the certifications for his role.
Robinson previously said that she does not think the district needs to replace Snell or Hasan. Spradley agreed with her tonight, saying that people who previously held those roles left “clusterbombs” for the district.
“We have a CFO and business manager that didn’t rely on credentials, but put in the work — and now we want to look for someone else?” Spradley said. “I can’t support that.”
The board voted 5-3 against the resolution, but Tribue and Pittman confirmed that the district has already hired a search firm that will fulfill its contract.
The resolution by the board was a formality, Pittman said, meant to codify its approval of the professional search.
“We need to make a good faith effort,” Pittman said. “I don’t want [PDE] to to say to us that we didn’t do our due diligence and introduce a receiver.”