Claysburg committee in upheaval

CLAYSBURG – A week into the existence of Claysburg-Kimmel School District’s first public advisory committee, school board members on Wednesday stripped its founder of command, renamed the group and reminded its seven members that they answer to the board.

The committee, founded after Claysburg resident Rich Allison pressed for more public involvement in the school’s trailing academic rankings, is growing even as its founders accuse the board of seeking “to make puppets out of us.”

Allison acknowledged that he’s contributed to an adversarial tone in the week since the board created the so-called Citizens’ Advisory Committee.

Claiming to represent the interests of parents and community members, Allison pressed the board to give his committee access to teachers and administrators in a bid to improve Claysburg-Kimmel’s poor test scores.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “It took that to get someone’s attention.”

In recent email exchanges Allison made public, board members asked him to go through them and Superintendent Royce Boyd with advice – not to meet directly with educators. It called to mind a similar dispute last year, during which Allison and his supporters accused the board of issuing a “gag order” against the formative citizens’ group.

It’s not clear just how the committee plans to improve Claysburg-Kimmel’s scores, but in a speech Wednesday, Allison said members hoped to gather volunteer grant-writers to seek state and federal funds. Committee members include experienced educators like Allen Sell, superintendent at Bedford Area School District, and David Burkett, principal at Northern Bedford Senior High School.

Responding to a week of Allison’s email pressure, board members on Wednesday voted to remove him as chairman of the now-renamed “CK Education Advisory Committee.” Allison narrowly evaded total removal from the committee, a bid that failed with a 4-4 vote.

“Although his heart’s in the right place, he goes about things in a rough manner,” board member Jonathan Burket said.

Former board officer Stan Finnegan was selected as the new chairman amid high praise from his colleagues.

In a series of votes that disheartened some in the audience, the board established a clearer path for the citizens’ group: They must meet to clarify their goals, the board ordered, before presenting their education-improvement plans at a March meeting.

“We’re the ones that are elected by the people. We’re the purveyors of public trust,” board member John Burket said. “We, the board, control the school. It needs to be by our desires that we don’t get off track.”

Solicitor Brendan Moran of Andrews & Beard Law Offices reminded board members that they hold final authority over the committee and aren’t legally bound to follow any of its recommendations.

“Committee members are at the mercy of the board. They can remove whoever they want,” Moran said.

Despite their dispute with Allison, some on the board expressed cautious excitement at the committee, now at seven members and seeking two more. They’ll have access to the scores and data they need to chart a course toward higher rankings, board members said.

“I do feel really good about the people we have on board, President Jeff Dugan said. “We are going to get Claysburg-Kimmel back to what other schools dream of being.”