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EDITORIAL: Johnstown taxpayers deserve answers

EDITORIAL: Johnstown taxpayers deserve answers

Interim superintendent's disciplinary history should be released
EDITORIAL: Johnstown taxpayers deserve answers
From left, board members Evamarie Mraz and Chris Tallon and interim Superintendent Karen Geelan.
Photographer: Jason Subik/Gazette Reporter

Before taxpayers in the Greater Johnstown school district fork over a single dime for the salary of the new interim superintendent, they have a right to know why she was forced out of her last job. 

And if district officials won’t reveal the reasons, or if the new interim superintendent won’t be forthcoming, then Johnstown taxpayers should demand the school board withdraw its offer and reopen the superintendent search.

The school board voted earlier this week to hire former Valhalla Union Free School District Superintendent Karen Geelan through at least the end of the current school year. The district will be paying her $600 per day for her efforts, or the equivalent of $108,000 for a 180-day school year.

Geelan was suspended by the Valhalla school board shortly after Christmas last year. District officials there have steadfastly refused to reveal the reasons for her departure, hiding behind the state’s own transparency laws that allow government bodies to withhold information about disciplinary matters.

How can Johnstown school district residents — including taxpayers, students, teachers and staff — have any faith in the new superintendent if they don’t know why her past employer was so anxious to get rid of her, even to the point where it agreed to continue paying her full $260,000 salary and benefits until she found a comparable job?

The Journal News/lohud, the local newspaper covering Geelan’s suspension and ultimate departure, filed multiple Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests with the district. After being denied access for several months, the newspaper ultimately received a copy of the 10-page separation agreement, which included 23 disciplinary charges brought against Geelan — all of which were completely redacted.

Twenty-three disciplinary charges! 

Yet the Johnstown school board felt comfortable forking over $3,000 a week in taxpayer money to this individual without telling those taxpayers what these disciplinary charges entail.

Maybe the disciplinary charges are not all that serious. Maybe they can easily be explained away.

Maybe Geelan’s old board simply disagreed with her philosophically, justifying the need for a clean break.

So maybe her appointment in Johnstown is completely appropriate. 

But if the reasons are being kept a secret, how are citizens supposed to know that for sure?

Until the public gets the answers it deserves, this appointment will forever be tainted.

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