Indiana, PA - Indiana County

BLAIRSVILLE-SALTSBURG: Director files ethics complaint

by JEREMY HARTLEY jhartley@indianagazette.net on September 19, 2013 11:00 AM

SALTSBURG — A Blairsville-Saltsburg school director has filed an ethics complaint against her own board over its procedures.

At a meeting Wednesday, Director Holly Hall, reading from prepared comments, told the board she has asked the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission to assess the board’s practices from “an unbiased, objective point of view.”

In her statement to the board, Hall accused the district’s administration of being hostile toward those who question matters and object to the way deliberations are carried out and coddling those who don’t.

[Read the full text of Hall's comments following this story.]

“I am troubled that those who actually blindly support our administration and behave in an unethical manner, publicly and privately, are treated as allies. I am troubled that board members are permitted to scream profanities, insults and make inflammatory accusations to and about those who disagree with them without proof or foundation. And the administration says nothing. I am troubled about specific issues that I have tried to address to this administration to no avail,” she said.

“With the exception of colleagues (Rick) Harper and (Holly) Gibson, I am made to feel the questions I raise and objections I voice brand me as a troublemaker. And because I feel this way, I find it necessary to ask the state ethics commission to provide me, the board and the public with an unbiased, objective point of view regarding specific issues regarding how we deliberate, how we vote, how we spend money, how we employ, and how ethical we are when it comes to operating this district.”

Hall said she filed the complaint two days ago.

She declined to detail what she said in the complaint.

The state ethics commission is primarily concerned with whether public officials have used their office for their own financial benefit. There is no indication that Hall made accusations along those lines in the complaint.

Superintendent Tammy Whitfield declined to comment on the issue.

In other matters, the board approved a deal that would abate local and state taxes for a developer trying to bring a grocery store to downtown Blairsville.

The vote followed a presentation by Byron Stauffer Jr., executive director of the Indiana County Office of Planning and Development, who asked that it support the designation of the former BiLo grocery store as a Keystone Opportunity Expansion Zone.

The designation ordinarily provides for full abatement of local and state taxes for 10 years. But in this case, the board approved the designation on the condition that the developers enter into a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement, providing for some revenue to the district from the building.

Under the agreement, local property tax would be abated until the last three years of the 10-year designation. In year eight, they’d pay an amount equal to 25 percent of the tax bill, ramping up to 50 percent the following year and 75 percent the year after that.

Also, they’d continue to pay property taxes, frozen at the 2013 rates, over the next 10 years on an outbuilding.

The Blairsville Borough council voted on this same proposal during Tuesday’s meeting.

Additionally, the board also approved a request from physical education teacher Justin Kulik that the district participate in a fitness research project.

The project will be an international collaborative effort between Indiana University of Pennsylvania and two universities in Scotland and India. The study is intended to make comparisons of people’s fitness in regard to socioeconomic status, native diet and physical activity and physical education.

According to Kulik, one-third of adolescents nationally are considered to be obese. This number has tripled in the last 30 years, and represents immediate and long-term effects. In regard to the school district, 38.9 percent of students in the district are considered overweight or obese.

Participation in the study will be at no cost to the district, and parents must give permission for their children to be a part of it.

Also Wednesday night, the district announced it has had to revise its calendar due to an error.

Officials said students were mistakenly scheduled to report to school on Veterans Day, which should have been a day off. So to make up for it, the day off has been tacked on to the end of the year, making the last day of school June 5.

Also, Assistant Superintendent Ian Magness announced that Wednesday was the first day of orientation for the new Pre-K Counts classes. Although classes at Saltsburg Elementary have been filled, there are still six seats open at Blairsville Elementary, he said.

In other business, the board approved:

• An agreement with Tritt-Schell Consulting Services for E-Rate consulting services for the 2014-15 funding year at a cost of $6,500.

• A letter of agreement with the Armstrong/Indiana Mental Health/Mental Retardation Program to provide student assistance programs in effect for school years 2013-15.

• Conducting student surveys as part of the implementation of the Life Skills Drug and Alcohol Prevention program in the middle schools to measure fidelity and effectiveness in collaboration with the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence and Penn State’s survey at no cost to the district.

• The purchase of cases for the protection of Google Chromebooks to facilitate middle school 1:1 programming at a cost not to exceed $20,000.

• The following supplemental contracted personnel: Kimberly Davis’ resignation as SMHS cheerleading co-adviser, Joshua Cunningham as SMHS newspaper adviser, Amanda Watson as BHS yearbook adviser, Geoff Dixon as SMHS English department chair and Cara (Badak) Coulter as SMHS junior class adviser.

• The recall of Karen Sulkosky, who was furloughed, and to restore her to part-time status effective today.

• The hiring of Noelle David as a guidance counselor at the salary scale of $53,345.


The text of board member Holly Hall's comments, as read during the meeting and provided for reporters:

A close friend of mine said to me, “Holly, I've been following the school board news. You seem to be troubled and troubling.”

He was right. I am troubled that our administration treats those of us who don't take things at face value and asks questions or who strongly object to the manner in which we deliberate and make decisions as the enemy. I am troubled that those who actually blindly support our administration and behave in an unethical manner publicly and privately are treated as allies. I am troubled that board members are permitted to scream profanities, insults and make inflammatory accusations to and about those who disagree with them without proof or foundation. And the administration says nothing. I am troubled about specific issues that I have tried to address to this administration to no avail.

With the exception of colleagues (Rick) Harper and (Holly) Gibson I am made to feel the questions I raise and objections I voice brand me as a trouble maker. And because I feel this way I find it necessary to ask the state ethics commission to provide me, the board and the public with an unbiased objective point of view regarding specific issues regarding how we deliberate, how we vote, how we spend money, how we employ and how ethical we are when it comes to operating this district.

If I am wrong in my perceptions I will apologize. If I am right we owe the district an apology. If filing a request for an intervention by the state ethics commission makes me a troubling person then my friend is truly correct. And I have. I will not discuss the specifics, but as a parent taxpayer who also just happens to be a board member, I am seeking answers where so far I have received none.

 

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