New Castle News

December 28, 2013

Top 10 Stories, Number 4: New Castle schools: Gabriel out, Sarandrea in, Gabriel back in

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — It’s been a tumultuous year for the New Castle Area School District’s administration.

After superintendent George J. Gabriel resigned during a tempestuous meeting in October 2012, the school board launched a search for his successor in January.

The board, wanting to avoid using the Midwestern Intermediate Unit IV’s free search services — reportedly because of a board member’s family affiliation — agreed to spend $15,000 to use the services of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

Meanwhile, Stanley Magusiak, who was assistant to the superintendent, stepped into the position of acting superintendent.

There were 22 applicants for the superintendent’s post and several of the candidates were interviewed.

When all was said and done, a former district coach and principal — who was superintendent of Sharon city schools — was hired.

John J. Sarandrea assumed the post July 1 and Magusiak opted to retire.

While the superintendent search was under way, Gabriel — who had attended New Castle schools and later was employed by the district for nearly 43 years — decided he wasn’t ready to give up his connection with the district.

He decided to run for the school board.

Gabriel was nominated in the May primary and was one of four elected in November. He took his seat on the board Dec. 3 along with new members Mark Panella and Steve Fornataro, who had run their campaigns with his. Incumbent Dr. Marilyn Berkely was re-elected.

Gabriel, Panella and Fornataro replaced Mary Ann Tofel, Anna Pascarella and Allan Joseph.

As superintendent, Gabriel was instrumental in the planning for the Lockley Early Learning Center. The $22 million project involved renovating the old Lockley building and adding a kindergarten.

The new building will house kindergarten beginning next week, with the students starting classes there Jan. 3.

The other grades in that building will be first and second. Those students will begin classes there in the fall.

Gabriel submitted his resignation as superintendent, effective Jan. 31, when the board rejected the Lockley project because of the cost.

The members realized the district could be charged $7 million in penalties for repaying $17.5 million in qualified school construction bonds at zero interest to the state, so they relented and changed their vote to approve the project.

The district also already had spent $1.5 million in architectural, construction manager, legal and other professional work at that point.

Sarandrea has taken over the supervision of the project as it approaches completion.

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)