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Published: Thursday, 4/26/2007

Sykes says Harner's demands killed deal; residency, tuition issues ended talks

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Larry Sykes, who was the board of education's point man in the negotiations, told The Blade that Mr. Harner wanted to send his 15-year-old daughter to Maumee Valley Country Day School at taxpayers' expense.

Mr. Harner said salary was not an issue, Mr. Sykes said.

"Residency was the issue and where his daughter would go to school," Mr. Sykes said. "We were not going to agree to let him live in Ottawa Hills, and we were not going to pay [his daughter's] tuition at Maumee Valley - that was non-negotiable."

Annual tuition at the private school in South Toledo is $13,600 for grades 10 through 12.

Mr. Sykes also said much of the nine weeks of negotiations was done through attorneys, but the board learned early in the process that board member Darlene Fisher had spoken with Mr. Harner regarding the job.

"It had to be six or eight weeks ago because we were told that Dr. Harner was pulling out and a board member told him there was going to be more money or opportunity," Mr. Sykes said.

"The records will show that Ms. Fisher had been negotiating with Mr. Harner behind our backs," Mr. Sykes said.

Documents set to be released to The Blade today also will verify the impasse over the school tuition for Mr. Harner's daughter and his residency, Mr. Sykes said.

Ms. Fisher last night declined to discuss Mr. Sykes' statements.

"I don't answer accusations from Mr. Sykes," she said. "I would like to see the correspondences that went back and forth because I was not brought into it."

Ms. Fisher added: "We can't dictate to any employee where their children go to school."

However, she would not talk about the request to use district taxpayer money for private school tuition.

Ms. Fisher told The Blade that Mr. Sykes and board member Robert Torres, who also was involved in the negotiations, were to blame for not closing a deal with Mr. Harner.

"I'm disappointed in our leadership not to be able to deliver a good candidate within our timeline," Ms. Fisher said. "I just think that more work should have been portrayed on this side. We were recruiting him to come here and work for the district."

Mr. Harner, a West Point graduate and 20-year Army officer who is a regional superintendent for the Philadelphia School District, declined to answer questions yesterday. He cited personal reasons for ending negotiations and withdrawing his name.

Deborah Barnett, president of the board of education, announced Tuesday night that Mr. Harner would not lead the 29,400-student Toledo school district.

Mr. Torres, Ms. Barnett, and board Vice President Steven Steel declined to talk about what went wrong in the contract talks.

"We are not back at square one," Mr. Steel said. "We have candidates that have already expressed interest and might have new candidates."

The five-member school board met in a closed-door executive session for just over an hour Tuesday night, speaking with Mr. Harner's attorney by phone. The board did not speak directly with Mr. Harner.

When they returned to public session, Ms. Barnett told the audience that Mr. Harner had withdrawn.

The board of education voted 5-0 in February to negotiate with Mr. Harner instead of Interim Superintendent John Foley or Thomas Maher, director of schoolwide assistance teams for the Florida Department of Education - the other two finalists for the job.

Former Superintendent Eugene Sanders lived in a downtown condominium. His contract required him to live within the school system's boundaries.

Mr. Sanders, who resigned in May, 2006, and is now the head of the Cleveland public schools, was paid $147,767 in base salary as part of a compensation package that totaled nearly $200,000.

Mr. Harner's base salary in Philadelphia is $136,000. He was paid a base salary of $163,532 as superintendent of the 63,000-student Greenville County, South Carolina, school system, a job he held from 2000 to 2004.

The board of education plans to meet Monday morning to discuss what steps it will take to find a superintendent.

Mr. Maher is one of three finalists for the superintendency of the Fairfield, Ohio, school district.

Mr. Foley, a 30-year TPS employee, indicated he is still interested in the job.

"The board hasn't decided what process they are going to use," he said. "I am still here working as superintendent and open to discussions with the board."

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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