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Published: Saturday, 4/28/2007

Toledo school board is urged to reopen Harner talks

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Even though William Harner has said twice that he doesn t want to be Toledo s superintendent of schools, a member of the board of education yesterday suggested reopening negotiations to hire him.

Board member Darlene Fisher faulted two of her fellow board members who were involved in the contract talks Larry Sykes and Robert Torres for not welcoming Mr. Harner to Toledo soon after the board s Feb. 20 unanimous vote to open negotiations.

At this time, I would like to offer our most sincere apologies to Mr. Harner and his family, Ms. Fisher said during a news conference at the Sanger branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library.

In hindsight, our district should have drafted a letter welcoming Mr. Harner to our district, she said.

The talks apparently broke down because the board wanted their superintendent to live in the district, while Mr. Harner wanted to live in a suburban community, chiefly so his daughter would not be in a Toledo Public high school.

Ms. Fisher said a review of e-mails from attorneys for both sides, Mr. Harner, and the board s search consultant showed that negotiations started just three weeks ago.

She contended that Mr. Sykes intentionally delayed contract talks but had no evidence to prove it other than a lack of e-mail communication.

Mr. Harner, a retired Army officer who is a regional superintendent for the Philadelphia School District, told the board Tuesday night he was withdrawing his name.

He e-mailed the board s search consultant March 27 that he intended to withdraw from the contract talks because of a me too agreement that would cap his compensation to what Eugene Sanders was paid as TPS superintendent.

[E]ntering into a contract that is flawed from the start would be a disservice to not only me, but to the district, Mr. Harner wrote.

David McClellan, president of the Toledo Association of Administrative Personnel union, affected salary talks March 11 when he said an agreement between the school system and its unions prohibits the board from paying Mr. Harner more than what TPS paid Mr. Sanders until union members get a raise.

Mr. Harner stayed in the negotiations and in an e-mail March 30 demanded $180,000 a year, annual salary increases of 2.5 percent, $750-a-month car allowance, an 11 percent annuity, full moving expenses, and temporary lodging for him and his family for up to three months.

He told The Blade he was willing to accept a lower-than-desired salary in exchange for permission to live outside the city of Toledo so his daughter could attend the only school in the area that would meet her advanced placement courseload needs.

The board and Mr. Harner eventually agreed on $158,800 for his base salary plus benefits but could not agree on the residency requirement.

Mr. Harner yesterday said the issues that we had still haven t disappeared and, unfortunately, everyone now knows what those issues are.

Regarding Ms. Fisher s announcement, he said: It s not a waste of time, but it is something that my wife and I would have to pray about.

Board Vice President Steven Steel found Ms. Fisher s announcement puzzling because the duration of the negotiations was not the reason they fell apart.

We did everything we could. We started immediately, Mr. Steel said. Dr. Harner was out of the country for part of March, and it seemed like it took a while for us to get a proposal of any kind from his attorney.

Mr. Steel also said the board s consultant, Nancy Noeske of Proact Search Inc. in Milwaukee, did not immediately provide Mr. Sykes with criminal-background and credit-history reports.

There were issues that couldn t be resolved, Mr. Steel said. The bottom line is that Dr. Harner withdrew from consideration.

Ms. Noeske did not return telephone calls yesterday seeking comment.

In an e-mail April 2, Ms. Noeske wrote to Mr. Steel: If the board screws this up, you will not be able to attract a quality person.

Mr. Sykes said he did not want to discuss Ms. Fisher s announcement or respond to her allegations that he sabotaged the contract talks by stalling.

Mr. Torres also declined to talk about Ms. Fisher s claims but said he believed everyone on the board wanted the negotiations to be successful.

Mr. Sykes told The Blade Wednesday that Mr. Harner ended the contract talks after the board refused to let him live outside the district and wouldn t pay tuition for his daughter at a private school.

Mr. Harner admitted this week that he did not want to live in the Toledo Public School District but denied he wanted taxpayer money to cover private school tuition.

However, an exchange of e-mails from Tuesday morning reviewed by The Blade showed Mr. Harner s attorney at least inquired about the possibility.

Mr. Harner said Sylvania Northview High School is the only school in the area that has the advanced placement courses that would allow his 16-year-old daughter to continue in her international baccalaureate program, a challenging two-year curriculum aimed primarily at students ages 16 to 19.

She currently attends a suburban high school outside Greenville, S.C.

Mr. Harner 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. His current base salary in Philadelphia is $136,000.

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



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