by Sade Blount
Earlier this year, parents, teachers and volunteers made appeals before the State College Area School District (SCASD) board of directors, imploring the board to spare programs and positions from proposed budget cuts.
“Teaching salaries constitute the largest portion of our budget (69%), therefore in order to achieve the necessary budget reductions, administration was directed to look at the largest budget segment,” the SCASD board announced on the district’s website. Thus, school employees were forced to take a salary freeze for the 2011/2012 academic school year.
Financial woes have also brought on layoffs, budget cuts and eliminations of many intramural activities, but in this same fiscal year, the district has allotted a pay raise to a new superintendent. On June 13, 2011, the SCASD School Board of directors appointed Robert J. O’Donnell as the new superintendent. O’Donnell, who initially resided in Lancaster, was paid $20,000 in relocation expenses to move from Lancaster County to State College.
Starting with an initial five-year contract, O’Donnell will be paid $169,000 his first year, about $15,000 more than previous State College school superintendent Richard J. Mextorf earned. Mextorf served as the SCASD superintendent for only one year, but had previously been superintendent of the Loyalsock Area School District in Lycoming County.
Cheryl Potteiger, the new superintendent of the Bellefonte Area School District is under a five year contract for $130,000. Potteiger spent 17 years as a teacher and an additional 12 years as an administrator.
Patty Johnston, a parent of two Park Forest Middle School students, said that more teachers possibly being laid-off scares her.
“I hope that the school district can regulate its budgets without ending intramural sports at my kids’ school,” said Johnston, the mother of twin boys.
Another concerned parent, Emilee Sheppard, states that she was surprised when she heard of the superintendent’s pay raise.
“O’Donnell is very young and hasn’t had much experience as a superintendent,” Sheppard said.
Among those defending the hiring of O’Donnell are the SCASD board members.
“O'Donnell will endeavor to generate innovative and advanced educational experiences for kids, and to work to develop “teacher-leaders,” said State College Area School District Board of Directors President Ann McGlaughlin.
“In State College, I will work to foster the best decisions in a collaborative manner in all situations,” said Robert O’Donnell at the June 13 school board of directors meeting.
“I don't know what education is going to look like 20 years from now, but I can assure you that the most important variable in education 20 years will continue to be interaction between teachers and students,” said O’Donnell. “Highly trained educators know not only how to academically grow kids, but they know how to motivate students.”
O’Donnell previously served as an administrator in the Hempfield School District, serving as assistant middle-school principal, high-school co-principal, and then as Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education.