Altoona Area School District Superintendent Dennis Murray will retire at the end of the 2012-13 school year.
The school board accepted Murray's retirement notice Monday night. Murray will retire with 28 years' service as superintendent.
The board plans to start advertising in a few weeks for a new superintendent in the 2013-14 school year, board President Ryan Beers said.
"[Murray] still has all of the authority of being the superintendent," Beers said. "We just want to set ourselves up so that we are not scrambling to find a replacement."
Murray was absent for the school board's meeting, which was the last meeting for Assistant Superintendent Norm Miller, 44, who's been hired by the Central Dauphin School District.
Because of Murray's absence, Miller sat in the superintendent chair for his last meeting; some thought Miller was a sure successor to Murray.
"Who is going to run the ship?" said Jim Walstrom, a former Altoona board president who addressed the board as a taxpayer and parent of a child in the district.
"There will be a disconnect for some time until we get back to someone who knows about running the district," Walstrom said.
The board plans to look outside the district for superintendent candidates.
"We will look as far as it takes," board member Sharon Bream said.
Walstrom urged the board to not eliminate vacant positions left by Miller as well as assistant high school principal Ben Brenneman, who has been hired by East Stroudsburg Area School District.
"The fact that something is cheaper or saves money doesn't make it the right thing to do," Walstrom said.
Miller's salary was $108,700, Brenneman's salary was $77,341.
With an 8-1 vote, the board hired Andrew Neely, an English teacher from the Hollidaysburg Area School District, to fill Brenneman's former position at a salary of $60,000.
Bream cast the dissenting vote.
"We've got to be careful. The district has financial problems," Bream said.
The district is projected to begin running a deficit of at least $592,000 by the end of 2013-14 due to rising costs for employee retirement benefits.
Three other board members voted to hire Neely but with some reservations.
Dick Lockard was displeased that no teachers within the district applied for the position.
"I don't understand why we have to go outside the district [to hire a principal]," he said.
While the senior high school has five assistant principals including Neely, there are only seven principals for 10 elementary schools, Ron Johnston said.
Cheryl Rupp voted to hire Neely because an assistant high school principal has an effect on student achievement.
"We have some top positions we need to search for, so I wanted to make sure the education part is covered," Rupp said.
The board hasn't made a decision to replace Miller, but Bream said she is opposed to that hire.
"At what point do you start to make spending changes? We will be getting a new superintendent, and I want to talk with him before hiring an assistant superintendent," Bream said. "There has been talk that we should hire a curriculum director instead of an assistant superintendent."
The board eliminated the district's two curriculum director positions about three years ago, board member Tim Lucas said.
"We eliminated two curriculum director positions and stuffed their duties into principal and assistant principal positions," Lucas said. "I am always concerned when we divide up curriculum."
The school board has budgeted about $5.5 million of its $88.4 million 2012-13 budget for administration salaries and benefits in 2012-13 including Brenneman and Miller.
Miller had also served as CEO of the county's cyberschool, the Central Pennsylvania Digital Learning Foundation, established by the district. Murray will temporarily serve in that capacity in addition to superintendent duties this school year, Miller said.
With Miller's departure, Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education Mary Lou Ray is without a counterpart for secondary education.
Mirror Staff Writer Russ O'Reilly is at 946-7435.