Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Knight-Burney’s tenure “up in the air” as board dawdles over search for new superintendent.

The job board for the Harrisburg School District currently lists 76 open positions, but you won’t find superintendent among them.

Two months after the board voted to consider new candidates for its top administrative post, its leadership remains divided on whether to retain or replace Sybil Knight-Burney, who has served as superintendent since 2011.

Board members confirmed this week that the nationwide search to replace Knight-Burney has yet to begin. Before it can, the board must vote to hire a search firm.

Board President Judd Pittman hopes that vote will take place at the board’s next session on Monday, May 21. But the board’s vice president, Danielle Robinson, hopes the board will vote to retain Knight-Burney for another term of three to five years.

Whichever action the board takes will likely be the final referendum on Knight-Burney’s contract, which expires on June 30.

“It’s still up in the air,” Robinson said after a budget and finance committee meeting on Monday, where board directors and administrators fielded questions about the district’s $8 million deficit.

Robinson said that the district would have to consider the cost of a nationwide search for a new superintendent. The Pennsylvania School Board Association offers recruiting services for about $5,000, but an outside headhunting firm could cost at least twice as much.

What’s more, Robinson isn’t confident that the board can conduct a thorough search for a new superintendent in just six weeks. If Knight-Burney’s contract expires before a replacement is found, the district will have to retain an interim superintendent while the search continues.

“We’d get a big game of musical chairs, and that’s not what we need right now,” Robinson said.

Pittman is hopeful that the board will come to a consensus at next week’s meeting and retain the services of a search firm.

He favors hiring the PSBA and was not concerned about the $5,000 rate for its services.

Pittman previously said that he received inquiries about Knight-Burney’s job from interested prospective applicants, even though the job has not been publically advertised. He said that he asked the district’s human resources manager on Monday to post the job listing to the district’s website.

The board has vacillated on Knight-Burney’s tenure since December, when the resolution to consider new applicants for her job first appeared on a meeting agenda. The board tabled that item every month until March, when it passed by a 5-4 vote.

The board attempted to rescind that action in April, and a change of heart from board newcomer Tyrell Spradley allowed it to pass a rescission vote 5-4.

Board Solicitor Samuel Cooper ultimately found the rescission attempt invalid under state law.

Given the presence of at least one swing vote on the board, Pittman can’t say for certain what will happen at Monday’s meeting.

“It’s going to take some serious political pressure to line up votes,” he said.

The board’s next meeting will take place at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, May 21, in the district offices at 1601 State St.

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