Carol Powell, Columbia School District superintendent

Carol Powell, Columbia school superintendent

Columbia Superintendent Carol Powell is leaving the financially troubled district after only 18 months on the job.

Her departure comes in the middle of a three-year contract with an annual salary of $115,000.

The Columbia school board voted at special board meeting Tuesday to accept Powell’s resignation, which becomes effective at the close of business on Wednesday.  


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Powell will take a position as assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction at the School District of Lancaster, according to a Dec. 15 personnel report from that district. She will be paid $135,000 per year. The start date is undetermined.

Powell took the helm at Columbia in July 2014. Her contract runs through June 2017.

Powell had the ability to opt out of the contract with the district at any point, according to school board president Tom Strickler. The contract only bound the district to employ Powell, but did not oblige her to stay for the duration.

“Thank you for the lessons learned during my tenure,” Powell said in a comment to the board.    

Replacement

The board voted to appoint Kenneth Klawitter as acting Superintendent for the 2015-2016 school year at the special board meeting for a salary of $115,000.

Klawitter served as Columbia superintendent from 1999 to 2006 and served as an interim superintendent for the 2013-2014 school year. His appointment is effective as of 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

“Columbia captured a piece of my heart. It is an awesome place,” said Klawitter. “I’m so impressed with staff. We have our fair share of challenges, but we also have our fair share of rewards.”    

Replacing Powell won't be easy, said Strickler.

"It's always a challenge to find good people and of course our budget doesn't help," he said by phone Tuesday morning.

Columbia is one of Lancaster County's most financially distressed districts. Every year the board struggles to balance a budget with a weak tax base and overburdened residents.

And with this year's state budget impasse dragging on, the district will need a loan to pay operating expenses beginning sometime in January.

Hiring a top administrator in the midst of those struggles is not ideal. Some districts hire outside firms to find conduct searches, Strickler said, but Columbia can't afford that.


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The district also can't afford a high salary for Powell's replacement. Powell's pay was the lowest of any superintendent in the county and well below the average of $144,701.

Strickler said the board also will decide tonight who will lead the district when Powell departs. Columbia does not have an assistant superintendent.

Prior to Columbia, Powell was assistant superintendent at West York School District. She took a $22,000 pay cut in her move to Lancaster County. At the time, she called herself "a pathological optimist" and said the financial, academic and morale challenges at Columbia appealed to her.

City vacancy

Powell will be School District of Lancaster's first assistant superintendent since 2012-13, when two such posts were vacated. After that, the district consolidated to one assistant position but failed to hire someone. For the 2014-15 year, the board held off on filling the post as a way to save money.

The board waited on hiring this year until the new superintendent, Damaris Rau, could be involved, according to a district spokeswoman.