Use Vacancy For Progress, Board Reform
By the Editorial Board
Mar. 30, 2018
The new version of the Scranton School Board demonstrates that elections have consequences. An impending test for the new board is to demonstrate, for the second time, that appointments also have consequences.
Bob Lesh, a longtime director and holdover from a series of boards that have mired the district in a financial quagmire and a criminal investigation, announced his resignation this week by a brief text message to the board secretary and offered no explanation.
The board should not wait for one. It should accept the resignation and move quickly to fill the vacancy in a way that enhances reform.
In recent years boards have rejected that opportunity and have filled vacancies primarily with the usual political suspects who have helped to further the district’s decline.
This board does not have the luxury of politically based self-indulgence. With an underfunded budget balanced yet again only by borrowing, the attorney general’s office examining multiple aspects of district business, the impending layoffs of 51 teachers and an unsettled teachers contract, the board needs all of the help it can find.
Qualified people are willing to help. In December, 13 people with diverse backgrounds applied to replace former Director James Timlin. The board, including several newly elected members, appointed Paige Gebhardt Cognetti, an Oregon native and well-educated finance professional. Since then, she has challenged the conventional district wisdom that has created the unconventional crisis.
Now the board should seek an equally qualified replacement for Lesh, and consider an appointment that will make the board look at least a little bit like the district’s hugely diverse student population.
It is characteristic of Scranton politics that the state auditor general and attorney general have had to come in to unravel the long history of political inside baseball and corruption that have driven the district to the edge of state-directed receivership. A better future starts with better appointments.