Philipsburg-Osceola hiring policies questioned

For the CDTAugust 14, 2013 

— The Philipsburg-Osceola Area school board pushed through some job advertisements and interviews recently to get key positions filled in time for school to start, but at least one board member has concerns about putting a procedure into place to govern how hiring decisions are made.

Elizabeth Whitehead said Tuesday that she understands the district had to move quickly to fill the vacancy left by Osceola Mills Elementary Principal Linda Smutz’s retirement and the need for an assistant principal at the about-to-open P-O Middle School. Still, she wants something more structured in place instead of a process she called “fly-by-night.”

The board hired Susan Harris as OME principal and Kelly Reese as P-OMS assistant principal in a quick turn around after a short advertisement period at a special meeting Aug. 8.

Board member Susan McGee stressed that Harris and Reese, and all other candidates, did not get to the point of an interview without being very qualified for their positions. She was echoed by board member Nancy Lamb who said the candidates were not selected by the board.

“But sometimes they are,” said Whitehead, adding that nothing in the board’s policies prevents a board member from hand selecting a candidate in addition to those pulled by administration and singling out for interview because they know the parents or go to church with the family.

Board member Jim Verbeck wants that freedom.

“I think if there is a local candidate who we think should be interviewed, we should do that,” he said.

Superintendent Gregg Paladina, who inherited a district at odds after a contentious board situation and the ouster of former administrator Stephen Benson when he came on board in June, said that he has been pleased with the level of involvement by the board members in the hiring process, but that he would like to see a hiring process codified.

“I want to make a two-step process,” he said, with a first interview at the administrative level, and a second interview where board members are invited to participate. Personnel committee chairwoman Linda Bush said that was one of the first things Paladina discussed with her after being hired.

Whitehead also has concerns about a quorum of board members participating in the interviews, at what would then become de facto, unadvertised, unreported executive sessions. Board solicitor Brian Marshall agreed that was a “potential problem.” Five board members participating in the interview process could theoretically make a decision about a new hire without input from the full board.

That is something board President Rebecca Timchak flatly denied has happened. While admitting “we are in flux,” she said “at no time do I feel we have done anything inappropriate in hiring. ... There is no meeting, no vote after (an interview).”

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