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It’s worth making an exception to keep Hathorn at the helm

Published: Sun, April 14, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

As a general rule, we are opposed to the retire/rehire policies that have grown in popularity in the public sector as government employees strive to squeeze the maximum in benefits by retiring when they become eligible. There’s significant financial reward in being able to retire in time, and then being rehired for the same job — even at reduced pay.

We find retire/rehire almost as unpalatable as the practice of permitting public employees to accumulate unused vacation and sick time, which is cashed in at the highest hourly rate of pay.

Such sweeteners are almost exclusive to the public sector. As we have said many times before: Governments at all levels cannot continue adopting policies that enrich employees when the people paying the bills are barely holding on to their jobs.

If an employee is old enough to retire, he or she should do so. And if the position is absolutely necessary, there are many qualified and younger individuals eager to work — for lesser pay.

With all that said, we are willing to make an exception to our rule — for Superintendent Connie Hathorn of the academically and fiscally embattled Youngstown City School District. It is no secret that we, like the State Academic Distress Commission, strongly support Dr. Hathorn and believe he is the right person to guide the urban district to a better tomorrow.

The veteran educator, who came to Youngstown from Akron in October 2010 as deputy superintendent under Wendy Webb and took over as superintendent in January 2011, has announced he is retiring and would like the board of education to reappoint him as superintendent.

Hathorn’s contract does not expire until July 31, 2014, but if he waits until then, he will lose a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment in his State Teachers Retirement System pension.

The school board is to meet June 4 to discuss his employment after retirement, and will meet again June 25 to act on his request to be rehired.

We would urge members who are elected by the residents of the district to set aside whatever personal grudges they hold against Hathorn and judge him purely on his ability to lead the district out of the academic and fiscal darkness — as the state commission has done. The panel was formed after the Youngstown schools system was placed in academic emergency as a result of student performance on the state proficiency tests. The system was moved up to academic watch last year after it showed improvement in attendance, but challenges abound.

Hathorn has forged a close working relationship with the commission and recently received school board approval for a schools reorganization plan that addresses the dual problems of declining enrollment and failing schools.

Recovery blueprint

This is the second phase of his recovery blueprint; the first was the consolidation of schools and the creation of two high schools, Chaney, which concentrates on science, technology, engineering and math and vocal and performing arts; and, East, which focuses on business and other such disciplines.

By any objective standard, Dr. Hathorn’s relatively brief tenure as superintendent has been a success. He took over a system that was in a tailspin and has, through hard work, perseverance and the cooperation of teachers, administrators and some school board members, put it on the road to recovery.

The board of education would be doing the children of Youngstown a disservice by not rehiring him.

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