Friday, 22 March 2019

DeBlasio named district’s first woman superintendent

No search was needed for a new superintendent of the New Castle Area School District.

Instead, the school board plucked one from its own vine when it ratified a 4-year, 8-month contract for Debra A. DeBlasio for the position last night. DeBlasio, who moved into the title from acting superintendent, also has been a teacher, then a principal in the district in her nearly 35 years of employment.

Board president Stacey Fleo said, “I want to introduce the first female superintendent of the New Castle Area School Board.”

DeBlasio’s appointment came with applause and a standing ovation from an audience of about 50 people who included district administrators, teachers and staff members, her friends and members of her family.

DeBlasio, who previously was assistant to the superintendent for four years, has been acting superintendent since August when John J. Sarandrea retired from the position. Her permanent hiring for the position was by a 7-1-1 vote.

The board voted 9-0 to abolish the assistant superintendent’s position, at a savings of $145,000 for the salary and another $18,000 for benefits.

DeBlasio’s brother, school board member George Gabriel, who himself is a former district superintendent, abstained from voting.

Board member Robert Lyles voted against her appointment, saying he disagrees with the terms of her contract.

“I think it’s a gold parachute at the expense of the taxpayers,” he said.

DeBlasio’s hiring for the position comes with an initial salary of $148,500, plus all fringe benefits afforded all district administrators under the district’s Act 93 contract for administrators.

Her raises under her contract will coincide with the formula used in the district’s administrative compensation plan, which was adopted July 1 last year and will be in effect until June 20, 2022.

The first year’s raise, to be effective July 1, 2019, will be DeBlasio’s base pay, plus $2,000, plus 2 percent of that salary. The increases will be granted on July 1, each year the contract. She also will receive education increments, if applicable, that are not included in the salary formula.

Lyles noted after the meeting that he disagrees with the administrative compensation plan, because the retirement incentive program entitles her — and other district administrators — to $40,000 cash, payable over three years as a “tax-sheltered annuity,” based on a minimum of 25 years of credit in the state employees retirement system.

He also objected to a $100,000 life insurance premium, noting that the agreement does not indicate what type of life insurance policy is allowable.

He further took exception to payment to her at her retirement for unused sick days that she accumulated before Act 93, at a rate of $175 per day.

Regarding her pay for accumulated sick days, DeBlasio said that it’s never happened before under the plan, where a superintendent who worked as a teacher could collect that money for the years worked.

DeBlasio was commissioned for her position by Lawrence County Common Pleas President Judge Dominick Motto, assisted by retired Common Pleas Judge Thomas Piccione, who is DeBlasio’s cousin.

Previous to her appointment as acting superintendent, DeBlasio was a teacher for 17 years in various schools in the district, and she was a principal at Lockley Early Learning Center, Thaddeus Stevens School and Kennedy School. 

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” she told the board after the vote. “I can think of no greater honor … than to be elected into this position in the school district where I grew up. I promise I will make this district proud. I’m humbled by the opportunity to serve the students and staff.”

She added that the single question that should guide the district into the future should be, “Is this right for our students?”

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