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Harrisburg School Board must reconsider action on former business manager, judge says.

The Court of Common Pleas in the Dauphin County Courthouse. (File photo)

A former administrator who appealed to the Harrisburg School District to get his job back received an assist this week from a Court of Common Pleas judge, who overturned a prior ruling in his case.

Following the judge’s decision, the Harrisburg school board will have to rehear the case of former Business Manager Kenneth Medina, who says that his abrupt reassignment and pay cut in August 2017 violated school district policy and Pennsylvania law.

The school board approved Medina’s reassignment in an October 2017 hearing. He appealed the decision to the court this May.

Following a hearing in July, Judge John Cherry vacated the board’s vote, remanding it back to the board for rehearing.

Sean Fields, the attorney representing Medina, said he has contacted school district officials to initiate next proceedings, but has not yet received a reply.

If the district wishes to avoid another hearing, it could appeal Cherry’s decision to the Commonwealth Court, Fields said. But he hopes the administration will reinstate Medina to his former role instead.

“Mr. Medina is ready and willing to return to work,” Fields said. “He’s been clear that he has wanted to remain as the business manager, and that’s the primary reason he pursued his rights under the law.”

Under the school district’s new budget, Medina’s reinstatement as business manager could save him from potential unemployment. His current role, program grants administrator, was one of the 52 positions that the district eliminated in June while trying to bridge an $8 million budget gap.

Medina received a termination of benefits notice in July, but says it was addressed to another district employee. He does not know if he has a job with the district.

District Solicitor Samuel Cooper declined to comment on the case this morning. A district spokesperson did not respond to an inquiry about Medina’s employment status.

According to the petitioner’s brief, Medina was hired as business manager in April 2016 at a salary of $120,000. He received a satisfactory performance review in February 2017 and a got a raise to $121,898 that June.

But just 10 days later, according to the brief, Superintendent Sybil Knight-Burney placed Medina on administrative leave due to allegations of professional misconduct. According to Knight-Burney, Medina had failed to notify the district of a vehicle loss, submitted budgets to the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) with incorrect figures, failed to schedule building inspections at John Harris High School, and failed to make arrangements for mail service at district properties.

A district lawyer questioned Medina at a due process hearing in August 2017 and found the allegations against him credible. He was reassigned to the role of program grants manager at a salary of $60,000 per year.

Medina then requested a personnel hearing before the school board. Five members of the board voted to support Medina’s reassignment and three abstained according to the brief. One member was absent.

Medina petitioned the Common Pleas court to review the board’s decision in December.

Medina’s case argues that his reassignment constituted a removal from his old position, and that the district administration did not follow the procedure for removing a business manager as set forth in the Pennsylvania School Code.

School code requires administrators to present the business manager with a formal list of charges ahead of any personnel action, according to the brief. Fields says that the district’s initial allegations do not constitute a list of charges.

“Because Medina was never presented with a statement of charges, the school district did not meet the burden of proof required for the removal of a business manager under local agency law,” the brief states. “The administration also presented evidence [in hearings] that differed considerably from the original allegations.”

Fields also argues that his client’s salary cut is void under state law. Medina did not receive any evidence that the board voted to reduce his salary – only that it had voted to reassign him. State law requires a majority affirmative vote by the board to change an employee salary, according to the brief.

Furthermore, the district business manager is a statutorily recognized position that carries specific job protections, Fields said. He claims that the district did not account for these safeguards when reassigning Medina.

“Under the school district’s interpretation of [School Code,] it would have unlimited power to reassign Medina to a custodial staff position at a salary of $10 per hour,” the brief states, calling such logic “absurd.”

Fields also says that the lack of a performance evaluation prior to Medina’s reassignment violates district policy. Medina never received any warnings or progressive discipline before being placed on leave, according to Fields. He also did not receive a performance review at the end of the district’s fiscal year.

Fields cited a policy that sets standards for employee evaluations, but does not stipulate how often they must take place. Knight-Burney testified that Medina received a formal mid-year evaluation, but no end-of-year performance review.

Assistant business manager Bilal Hasan replaced Medina as acting business manager in February 2018. A June 2018 letter from PDE Secretary Pedro Rivera asked the district to find a new, more qualified candidate for the role.

Rivera said that Hasan did not have the professional certifications or experience mandated in the district’s five-year recovery plan. He also asked the district to replace part-time CFO James Snell with a full-time employee.

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