July 29--In a meeting filled with contentious votes and frustrated teachers and taxpayers, the Scranton School Board appointed a new leader and approved the basis for a new teachers contract on Monday night.
John Marichak, who started this summer as the district's new supervisor of secondary education, will become the acting superintendent. The appointment of Mr. Marichak, a former Scranton High School teacher and football coach, was followed by boos from the audience, with many people yelling when the board failed to appoint the other candidate, a former administrator who lives in Matamoras.
Whether Mr. Marichak will receive a boost to his $115,000 salary has not been determined. School directors were also not sure when Mr. Marichak will assume his role as acting superintendent. William King, who resigned last month after serving as superintendent for five years, will continue to serve as superintendent until Oct. 1.
Also Monday night, directors revoted and approved the fact finder's report, which recommended a one-year contract and a 1.75 percent raise, plus step movement for teachers. There are no changes to health insurance.
With the teachers union's acceptance of the report last week, the report now becomes the basis for a new contract. Fact-finding reports are completed by a state-appointed arbitrator when the two parties cannot come to an agreement. Union leaders had said teachers would likely start the new school year on strike if a new agreement was not reached before the contract expires next month. Before Monday's meeting at Scranton High School, about 200 teachers rallied outside, asking for a fair contract. Those teachers then attended the meeting.
The board rejected the report 4-3 at a special meeting last week when directors Bob Sheridan and Lyn Ruane were absent. On Monday, both voted to approve it, along with directors Mark McAndrew and Armand Martinelli, changed their votes. Mr. Martinelli said he changed his vote after he had more of a chance to review the report. Board President Kathleen McGuigan and Director Kyle Donahue voted against the acceptance.
Director Cy Douaihy said the one-year contract means the district and union will be back at the bargaining table soon, but both sides hope that the possible election of a more education-friendly governor in November means more favorable school funding.
A new leader
Mr. Marichak, 45, who served as principal of North Pocono High School until last month, said he applied to be acting superintendent because he saw a lack of leadership in the administration building. Directors have said that with Mr. King's resignation effective Oct. 1, he often works from home.
"I just felt like someone needed to step up. Someone's got to get it done ... or else we won't be prepared to open our doors in a month," Mr. Marichak said.
In addition to being supervisor of secondary education, Mr. Marichak is also the director of alternative education and the district's cyber program. As acting superintendent, he wants to unify the district, open lines of communication and increase transparency.
Mr. Marichak, who does not hold a superintendent's certificate, said he knows he has much to learn before ever considering pursuing an appointment as the permanent superintendent.
For two hours, directors and the public questioned Mr. Marichak and another applicant, Patricia Pasierb, Ed.D. Dr. Pasierb, an educator with experience as a special education teacher, curriculum director and principal, and with school business manager training, said her dream was to become a superintendent.
As she spoke about her experience in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, her leadership style and her desire to make Scranton a better place to live, many of the people in the crowd applauded.
A vote to appoint Dr. Pasierb to the position failed 3-6, with only Mrs. McGuigan, Mr. Donahue and Vice President Mark McAndrew voting yes. As members of the board majority voted no, some audience members yelled "this is a joke" and "you should be ashamed of yourselves."
As Dr. Pasierb walked to the back of the auditorium to leave, the crowd applauded her, and many people gave her a standing ovation.
Mrs. McGuigan said she was disappointed in the board and said Mr. Marichak was still "getting his feet wet" as supervisor of secondary education. Members of the board majority said they thought Mr. Marichak could do the job. Director Robert Casey said he voted against Dr. Pasierb to save money because the district will not have to pay an additional salary.
In other business:
--The board voted 6-3 to reinstate former principal Gwendolyn Damiano, who was fired by the school board in November after being accused of mishandling state tests and failing to evaluate teachers. An order issued earlier this month by the office of the state secretary of education reversed her dismissal and called for her to be reinstated as principal with full back pay. Directors also voted 5-4 to appeal the state's decision, with Mr. Douaihy, Mr. Martinelli, Ms. Ruane, Mr. Sheridan and Carol Oleski voting in favor.
--The district will once again lease the former St. Mary's School on River Street from the New Life Assembly of God. Rent for the school, used for the district's alternative school, will be $4,000 per month.
--Another one-year agreement with Penn Foster was approved. Penn Foster, which offers cyber school to district students, will expand offerings for next year.
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