Manheim Township school board faced a mostly hostile crowd of more than 320 people Thursday night as they debated a series of contentious issues.
Board members received a petition calling for president Bill Murry's resignation, tabled a motion to seek a new solicitor, approved advertising the superintendent job and appointed an acting superintendent.
Residents at the meeting delivered a petition of 638 signatures calling for Murry's resignation.
"We want a school board and a board president who not only respects but upholds the law. ... Trust has been broken, and it's too far gone to be restored as long as you remain on the board," said Renee Heller, a mom of four Manheim Township students.
Residents launched the petition last week after LNP reported on the board's efforts to keep the public out of its plans for seeking a new superintendent.
In a leaked audio recording of a closed-door session held by the board on Jan. 28, Murry is heard arranging a series of one-on-one telephone conversations with board members to avoid public scrutiny in the selection of a superintendent search firm.
The board members' actions came at the same time they were preparing a statement acknowledging earlier violations of the Sunshine Act, the state open-meetings law. Murry had called those violations a "clear oversight."
Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said last week he would look into the possible new Sunshine Act violations.
The board's plan to hire a superintendent search firm last week was tabled, and several members apologized for their actions. Murry did not.
An online petition calling for Murry's resignation has garnered more than 1,000 signatures since last week.
Murry, who is a real estate developer and owner of Murry Communities, was reelected to a four-year seat on the board last November.
Responding to the petition during the meeting, Murry said: "Unfortunately Renee, you're not going to get what you came for."
He continued: "I don't appreciate people just assuming that I don't care about this school district." He also called on audience members to communicate with him directly.
At Thursday's meeting, the board debated whether to hire a superintendent search firm at a cost of up to $17,000.
Board member Nathan Geesey advocated skipping a firm.
"Every time you save $15,000, that can go to art classes, music classes to make a well-rounded student," he said, drawing applause from the crowd.
In 2011-12 and 2012-13, the school board reduced elementary library, music and art instruction, citing budget issues.
The cuts have continued to draw parent complaints since then.
Murry said the benefit of a search firm is its reach. "Does this school district want to settle for a reach at the borders of Pennsylvania?" he asked.
At one point, he told the audience that he didn't need to sell the search firm to the public. "Quite frankly, the board makes that decision."
The board ultimately voted to post the superintendent vacancy but continue to consider a search firm.
Murry was the only member who voted against advertising the job.
Geesey made a motion during the meeting to seek a new solicitor, saying the public had "lost confidence" in the current solicitor, Bob Frankhouser, of Lancaster law firm Barley Snyder.
The residents' petition also called on the board to remove Frankhouser.
In the audio recording of the closed meeting, Murry indicated that he had consulted Frankhouser on how to deliberate on hiring a search firm.
Thursday night, Murry said: "I don't believe at any time (in his career), Mr. Frankhouser provided any advice to this school district that was contrary to its best interest."
The board voted 7-2 to table discussion of a new solicitor. Geesey and Michael Lynch were in the minority.
The board last night also appointed retired Solanco superintendent Martin Hudacs as acting superintendent for the district. Board members did not announce what they would pay for the job.
Superintendent John Nodecker resigned last month — 18 months into a four-year contract — under circumstances that were never publicly disclosed.
Hudacs, 62, retired in 2014 from Solanco School District, where he had served for seven years. He earned a bachelor's degree in education with a concentration in English from the University of Scranton in 1975 and a master's in English at the same school in 1981.
An English teacher, Hudacs first came to Quarryville in 1990 when he was hired as assistant principal of Solanco High School. He also worked at Avon Grove High School in Chester County. In 1996, he earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Delaware.
Editor's note: this story has been updated with the correct age of Martin Hudacs.