CASD super candidates have vetting issues

Who looked into these folks and decided they were the best option?

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

UTMikeColLogoThere are times when reality trumps fiction for the completely incredible.

I had no plans to write again today about our pals at the Coatesville Area School District and frankly, would have been happy to work on the half-dozen other topics I have going elsewhere in the county. But, alas, sometimes you just don’t get a choice.

Last night, the district held a limited-audience, closed-door event to allow selected members of the community to meet and greet the likely two finalists for the Superintendent’s job. And yes, once again, CASD is treating topics that should be part of the public discussion like a state secret, which is far from unusual, and frankly (and maybe sadly) not really worthy of writing a column about. Again.

But the names of last night’s finalists: William Harner and Cathy Taschner leave me with one question for the folks at the school district (and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association which is coordinating the search):

Have y’all heard of Google?

When I saw the name Harner, I immediately was, well, gobsmacked. Taschner was oddly familiar, too, which when it comes to Coatesville is always worrisome.

Related: CASD state takeover is no longer far-fetched

For those of you who don’t know, Harner was nominated by Gov. Tom Corbett to be Secretary of Education, and served in an acting capacity in that role, until the circumstances of his, uh, departure from Cumberland Valley, where he served as superintendent, came to light.

The Cumberland Valley Board of Education decided not to renew his contract after — wait for it — alleged emails from Harner to a male administrator on vacation reportedly asked him how he looked in a Speedo (a minimalist bathing suit). The administrator complained and an outside investigator was brought in and it turned out there were some 15 to 18 other allegations of what was described as “awkward comments.”

Seriously. Six months after the Richard Como debacle, this guy — with this sort of history, one that was enough to force Gov. Corbett  to fire him — is a top-two pick?

As this is the Coatesville Area School District Board of Education, though, we get the daily double.

Taschner, who has Chester County roots and spent some stormy time in the Oxford School District, was among the subjects of a Dauphin County grand jury investigation over the Susquehanna Township School District’s handling of an alleged mishandling of a relationship between an assistant principal and a 16-year-old girl.

Taschner, as assistant superintendent, led the the investigation, and according to the grand jury report, seemed more interested in chasing rumors about the alleged relationship than whether a child had suffered from illegal abuse. The implication is that she should have immediately alerted local law enforcement the moment there was any indication of wrongdoing. She didn’t, the report said.

That led the The Patriot News, the local Harrisburg newspaper, to call for her resignation in January.

Look, maybe there are two sides of both of these stories — and maybe in the right environment both of these educators could thrive. Maybe they are both good people caught up in bad situations — had a lapse in judgment or got lousy legal advice.

But with the recent history of events in Coatesville how either of these candidates got beyond the most basic vetting — literally 15 minutes of research — to end up as the two finalists boggles the mind.

I dunno. Maybe the pool of candidates is limited, but I have to think that there are candidates — maybe even one or two idealists who think they can fix this school district — without this sort of baggage.

As I keep finding myself writing: you can’t make this stuff up, no one would believe it.

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