Gallagher retiring from post at HASD

Hollidaysburg Superintendent Paul Gallagher is retiring at the end of the school year. He surprised the board with the announcement at an executive session Wednesday night. The board subsequently approved his retirement at a public meeting in the high school library.

Gallagher said he wanted to spend more time with his grandchildren and has had a fulfilling career in the district.

The superintendent is the latest in a list of district leaders who have resigned or decided to retire at the end of this school year. High school Principal Linda McCall and Assistant Superintendent Gary Robinson are retiring at the end of the current school year. Business manager Sam Wilson retired at the end of the last school year, and spokeswoman Linda Russo and board member Bill Padamonsky resigned in the middle of this school year.

“I’ve tried to talk them into staying,” board member Robert Vonada said. “They all served the district when it stood for excellence. Now it stands for lowering taxes until minimum academics is all that HASD offers.”

The district has not had a tax increase since 2008-09. Vonada lost a bid for re-election in 2009 along with other board members who favored raising taxes. Vonada was elected to the board again in 2011, but since his return, he said the board’s reigning philosophy of cutting spending and refusing to raise taxes has caused several top administrators to resign or retire.

Last year, Vonada, Padamonsky and Wally Tomassetti believed raising taxes was fiscally responsible for the district headed for a projected budget deficit of $7.8 million by the end of the 2016-17 school year by then business manager Wilson, who recommend a tax increase.

But they were outnumbered by board members who wanted to cut spending.

“I think we’ve been painted as always against taxes,” board President Ron Yoder said.

“If we need to raise taxes, we will. I don’t think we need to,” he said. “The reason we are all here is to make sure children are getting educated.”

“We have cut no programs in the past year,” Yoder, who was elected in 2011, said.

But during the past five years, dating from the last tax increase in the 2008-09 school year, teachers’ union president Jim Murphy said the district has lost 30 teachers.

“I think the failure to raise revenue has put pressure on class size, and in short term, we will have increased class sizes all the way from kindergarten through 12th-grade. We will be limiting educational opportunities kids have,” he said.

Vonada contends if the board raised taxes 2 mills last year and 2 mills this year, the district would at least have another 4 mills of taxes to allocate to the district needs. “Because of Act 1 limitations, if you don’t take the opportunity to raise a mill or two in a given year, you lose the opportunity to allocate to the district needs years down the road.”

Board member Aaron Ritchey said prior to 2008-09, the district had a history of taxing.

“You can’t tax your way out of this,” he said, adding the pension contributions are skyrocketing beyond what the district can raise in revenue.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.