Gallagher has fond memories of career

Paul Gallagher, who will turn 59 before school starts next year, will retire June 30 with 14 years as Hollidaysburg Area superintendent, making him the longest tenured superintendent in the district’s history.

Gallagher announced his intentions at last week’s board meeting.

“I’m proud of the service I had with Hollidaysburg,” he said.

He is retiring with two more years left on a three-year contract, and his decision came “as a surprise to us,” board member Peter Hart said at the meeting.

Other than informing those closest to him, Gallagher kept his decision quiet. He told board President Ron Yoder one day in advance.

“Everybody knows Dr. Gallagher has done a wonderful job,” Yoder said. “We appreciate his time.”

Yoder and the board urged Gallagher to stay with the district when his contract expired last year.

“When you get to be my age, you get to a time when you wonder,” Gallagher said on Friday. “It’s not easy to retire.”

He said he contemplated retirement for a long time, keeping his wife and four grandchildren in mind.

“I am leaving with many, many fond memories,” he said. “I worked with many board members over the years, and I appreciate their hard work. I’ve worked with many wonderful teachers, administrative and support staff. I can’t thank them enough.”

The board plans to advertise statewide for the position as well as considering in-house candidates.

The district is in a unique situation for a possible in-house succession, Gallagher and Solicitor Dave Andrews said, because there are five district administrators who have doctorate degrees or superintendent certificates.

“We have a very well-educated staff,” Gallagher said.

Assistant Superintendent Gary Robinson’s position, however, might not be filled. He is also retiring at the end of the school year after nine years in his current role and a long tenure as high school principal.

The district has a “top-heavy administration,” board member Aaron Ritchey said.

Despite financial constraints, Gallagher hopes the board hires an assistant superintendent because of increasing workload passed down to districts from the government.

“I certainly don’t feel administration is top heavy,” Gallagher said. “What we are being asked from state and federal governments require many things we didn’t have to do in the past. It seems to multiply year after year. It will be difficult by removing that position.”

Scrutiny of administrative positions has intensified as many districts across the state have projected financial deficits looming if there are not increases to state funding and decreases to required contributions to the Public School Employees’ Retirement System.

“It is unknown, but right now, we know that the pension crisis has to be solved,” Gallagher said. “That is a major obstacle in the years to come.”

To board member Robert Vonada, who served on the board from 2007-2009, then was elected again in 2011, Gallagher’s retirement has been expedited, along with the departures of other administrators including the district’s communications director and grant writer Linda Russo, athletic director Dean Rossi, Robinson and former district administrator and board member Bill Padamonsky.

“They all served the district when it stood for excellence,” Vonada said. “Now it stands for lowering taxes until minimum academics is all that the district offers.”

Vonada is upset about the current climate and believes the current board majority has consistently shot down administrators’ pleas for tax increases.

“School board candidates have to turn out for the next election,” he said.

Gallagher said the school board did not cause him to retire early. In fact, it was the opposite, he said.

“I was thinking about retiring last year, but the board asked me to stay,” he said. “I have no animosity at all.”

Ritchey said aside from Russo, who resigned in October, the leaders who retired did so because they were of age to retire.

Ritchey said districts the size of Hollidaysburg Area have neither assistant superintendents nor communication directors.

However, with Russo’s resignation, there is a need for an administrator to take grant writing responsibilities, which Gallagher said furthers the district’s need for an assistant superintendent.

“There is a lot of work to be done,” he said. “Unless you are here to see it, you don’t appreciate it. I feel that job should be filled.”

Board member Wally Tomassetti said the district should have enough time to find a successor for Gallagher without rushing its decision.

“If we need to, I would imagine there is a mechanism in place where we can have an acting superintendent,” he said. “The fact that he [Gallagher] and Gary [Robinson] are going at the same time, we would have to dig down a little bit deeper, but we can surely get somebody with credentials to carry the torch until we fill the spot. We want to get the best candidate.”