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BLAIRSVILLE-SALTSBURG: School board names new member amid discord over process

by on April 03, 2014 10:55 AM

BURRELL TOWNSHIP — The Blairsville-Saltsburg school board appointed a new member Wednesday to fill the unexpired term of former president B. Edward Smith, who recently resigned due to medical and family issues.

Richard Serafin, of Old William Penn Highway, will serve the remainder of Smith’s term until December 2015.

The seat represents Region 1 — encompassing Blairsville Borough Precincts 1, 2 and 3 — and Burrell Township Precinct 2.

Serafin has been a resident of the area since 2005 after moving from the Elderton area, he said. He has been active in the school district as a volunteer girls’ volleyball coach.

A staff coordinator for Smith Bus Co. since 2000, Serafin said he is excited to be a part of the board.

It is his first time serving in this capacity, he said.

He applied for the appointment to be a part of the board and have a say in the district, which he said he believes is an “A-1 provider of education.”

The appointment process was not without contention at Wednesday’s special meeting.

Robin Walbeck, who said she also applied for the position, expressed discontent at the appointment process during public comment at the meeting.

She said she was one of three applicants who applied before the deadline was extended by the board at the last meeting. Serafin was selected from the second group of applications. The whole process, Walbeck said, was a “waste of my time.”

Her interview began late, she said, and only involved six of the eight board members, some of whom she said were distracted by phone calls during her interview.

She believed she was rushed through the process, and at one point, said a board member asked to interject to “tell her the right answer” to a question she was asked and was already answering.

The process culminated when she was called this week prior to the meeting where the board was to vote and told she was not selected for the board position.

It was “an experience I would not wish on anyone,” Walbeck said.

Board member Holly Hall questioned Solicitor Gary Matta regarding two meetings that were held for the purpose of interviewing the candidates. The board met on March 17 and 31, Hall said, with enough board members to constitute a quorum. But those meetings were not advertised.

The Sunshine Law says a meeting is “any prearranged gathering of an agency attended by a quorum of members held for the purpose of deliberating agency business or taking official action.”

She said that under her interpretation of the Sunshine Law, the meetings should have been advertised and made public. Though no action was taken, the board deliberated on the candidates, she said.

Deliberation is defined under the act as “discussion of agency business held for the purpose of making a decision.”

Board President George Rowley disagreed and questioned how the board would be able to interview candidates in that situation.

Hall responded that it should have been done in public, and that people have a right to know what a candidate stands for.

She also said she is “quite frankly sick of it” when it comes to the lack of transparency on the board.

Hall also questioned whether Serafin could be a board member with his connection to Smith Bus Co., the district’s provider of transportation.

Matta encouraged Hall to file a complaint with the state ethics board if she believes there has been a violation.

In other business at Wednesday’s meeting, the board:

• Approved the 2014-15 school calendar after some debate. The calendar keeps the current system of having an early dismissal each Friday after a vote for a modified calendar with only one early Friday dismissal a month failed.

The district recently polled parents regarding the change, and though the results showed 60 percent of parents were in favor of returning to a more traditional school schedule, the board did not vote for this option.

Upon approval of the calendar, several upset parents abruptly left the meeting while voicing complaints that the district did not value their opinion.

• Heard an update from Matta regarding parents’ complaints about Saltsburg Middle/High School Principal Allan Berkhimer. At last month’s meeting, parents alleged Berkhimer unjustly disciplines students through suspensions, among other complaints.

Parents were asked to submit concerns in writing, and Matta is reviewing the information and will report back to the board next month.

• Discussed setting up official district email accounts for board members at the suggestion of Holly Gibson. Members currently use personal email accounts and she believes board members’ emails should be listed on the website and accessible to the public. This option will now be available for members who want to be included.

• Approved the budget for the Indiana County Technology Center with a 2 percent increase for the 2014-15 school year.

• Approved the retirement of Delores Stile, cook/baker at Saltsburg Middle/High School, at the end of the school year. Stile has been employed with the district since 1991.

• Eliminated the position of noon-hour supervisors and a remaining crossing guard at the end of the school year.

• Accepted with appreciation a donation of 65 student desks from WyoTech.



Margaret Harper has served as a Gazette staff writer since 2006. She covers Clymer Borough, the Blairsville-Saltsburg School District and Blairsville court, and also works in the areas of layout, design and editing. She can be reached at mharper@indianagazette.net.
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