Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

School Board: Harrisburg superintendent qualifies for performance-based pay raise

Superintendent Sybil Knight-Burney speaks at a community event in June.

Harrisburg superintendent Sybil Knight-Burney has received a satisfactory performance review from a majority of the school board, its solicitor announced tonight, a decision that qualifies her for a pay raise and a bonus.

Five board members deemed Knight-Burney’s performance over the past year exemplary or proficient, according to board solicitor Samuel Cooper. One member deemed her “in need of improvement” and two said her performance was unsatisfactory.

The review was completed by eight board members since the board had a seat open when it was finalizing the evaluation, Cooper said. The vacancy was filled on Aug. 6 with the appointment of former board member Lola Lawson.

The review is based on nine performance standards, including educational leadership, community and board relations, and resource management. Reviews from past years are posted on the district’s website.

Cooper did not provide category-specific grades in his report to the board tonight, nor did he say how each individual board member voted.

The full evaluation will soon be shared on the district’s website, Cooper said.

Knight-Burney received exemplary ratings on all nine performance standards during the 2016-2017 and 2015-2016 school years. Under her contract, which the board extended for a three-year term in June, a positive review could net Knight-Burney a 3-percent pay raise and $5,000 performance bonus.

Knight-Burney currently earns a $179,208 base salary, according to data obtained through a Right to Know request. A 3-percent raise and $5,000 bonus would bring her total pay to almost $190,000.

Community members commented on Knight-Burney’s performance at the board’s meeting tonight. Richard Soto implored the board to think twice about awarding Knight-Burney a raise, given that school taxes increased by 3.6 percent this year.

Gerlad Welch pointed to the district’s stagnant academic performance as evidence that Knight-Burney should not receive a positive review.

Harrisburg High School received 44 out of 100 possible points on Pennsylvania’s academic performance scoring system, according to a ranking methodology that is set to change this fall.

“I’m trying to wrap my head around what is exemplary about that performance – it doesn’t make sense to me,” Welch said. “I don’t like to get in the way of people getting their meat, bread, and eggs… but the constant bombard of confusion and chaos does not demonstrate effective leadership.”

Welch then pointed to a number of scandals that have plagued the district in the past year, including a grading investigation that led to the reassignment of a high school principal, a hiring fiasco that allowed 37 unbudgeted teaching positions to be filled, and criminal charges against a transportation administrator who allegedly embezzled $180,000 from the district.

The district also drew criticism in August when it asked 65 teachers that it hired at the wrong salary step to pay back wages. The administration later rescinded the request.

Earlier this year, the board vacillated over whether to re-hire Knight-Burney or seek new applicants for her position. The nine-member body frequently splits on a 6-3 or 5-4 margin, particularly on matters that concern the superintendent.

The board ultimately voted 5-4 in April to renew Knight-Burney’s contract.

Three of the members who voted to replace her – Carrie Fowler, Brian Carter and board president Judd Pittman – also cast dissenting votes in recent appointments to fill vacant board seats. All voted against appointing new board members Lola Lawson and Patricia Whitehead-Myers, who replaced board directors Tyrell Spradley and Percel Eiland, respectively, after they resigned earlier this year.

The board is still negotiating the terms of Knight-Burney’s new contract, which will run at least through June 2021. The new terms could alter her base pay and her performance based-incentives.

In other business, the board awarded a new contract tonight to interim Chief Financial Officer James Snell, who earns $12,000 a month overseeing the district’s finances.

The contract retains Snell’s services through October, as the district seeks a permanent candidate for his role. Pittman said that the district began advertising his post in June but has not yet found a qualified replacement.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education asked the district in June to replace Snell with a full-time, permanent CFO. (Snell, a retired school administrator, works for the district 30 hours a week.)

PDE also asked the district to replace Acting Business Manager Bilal Hasan, who lacks professional certifications for his role.

The board also voted 5-4 to approve a salvo of personnel actions, including the reassignment of former Harrisburg High School Principal Lisa Love.

Love, who was placed on leave this summer as the district investigated allegations of grading misconduct, will serve as assistant principal on assignment at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, where she will provide coaching and professional support to administrators, according to Human Resources Director Curtis Tribue.

Her building assignment may change depending on personnel turnover in other schools, he said.

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