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Blairsville-Saltsburg bids farewell to board member, six teachers

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By Jeff Himler

Published: Friday, March 23, 2012

Blairsville-Saltsburg School Board bid farewell on Wednesday to one of its members, who is resigning, and to several veteran teachers, who are retiring.

The school district will accept applications until April 6 from those interested in an appointment to the Saltsburg board seat vacated by veteran school director Dan McGregor.

McGregor announced his intention to step down from the school board last month and followed through with a letter of resignation at the end of Wednesday's board meeting. A former principal in the district, McGregor had indicated he was relinquishing his seat because he felt it was time to cut back on his public service career and allow younger volunteers to step forward.

McGregor was first elected to the school board in November 2002. He previously resigned in February 2007 as he joined the Saltsburg-based group Save Our Schools in opposing a plan by a majority of Blairsville-area school directors to have all district secondary students attend classes at an expanded Blairsville campus. That plan was defeated after new board members were elected, creating a new majority that halted consolidation efforts.

McGregor was elected once more to the school board in November 2009. His term is set to expire in 2013.

On Wednesday, McGregor said he is resigning this time with "no animus" and with pride that he is leaving behind "a financially sound school district with two separate but equal K-12 campuses. He said district officials are now "concentrating on matters that unit us, not divide us," including curriculum development and an agreement, approved Wednesday, to put an iPad tablet computer in the hands of every B-S student in grades 9-12.

"It's a time of great promise," he said, with tools -- such as the district's new virtual academy -- that will allow B-S to "be competitive with all outside threats to public education."

Several fellow board members expressed regret at McGregor's departure from the board -- as did Superintendent Tammy Whitfield, who said he had served as her mentor when she took on leadership of the district's administration about two years ago.

"I totally regret seeing him leave," said fellow Saltsburg board member Linda Brown. "He's a great member of our community."

McGregor has said he intends to remain active as a member of the Indiana County Housing Authority board and chaplain of the Saltsburg American Legion post.

Saltsburg resident Kathy McCormick, who was another outspoken opponent of the failed secondary consolidation plan, told the board she's interested in filling the seat vacated by McGregor. She also asked to meet in private with school officials to discuss concerns about the district's anti-bullying policies.

Retiring at end of 2011-12 school year

Also on Wednesday, the school board approved the retirements of six district instructors, effective the last day of the 2011-12 school year: William Frederick Popp, Blairsville Middle School teacher, who has worked for the district since September 1972; Saltsburg Middle/High School art teacher Elaine Pontillo, hired in August 1975; Saltsburg Middle/High School math instructor John H. Hamp, hired in August 1976; Blairsville Elementary teacher Cindy Barbi, hired August 1975; Blairsville Middle School science teacher Daniel D. Cunkelman, hired August 1978; and Blairsville Middle School health and physical education instructor Margaret Ostach, hired November 1991.

The retirements were approved in accordance with a memorandum of agreement between the district and its teachers' union regarding an early retirement incentive the district offers.

The departures of three other district employees, listed only by their respective employee ID numbers, were approved under less glowing circumstances. The school board approved the termination of one of the employees, retroactive to Jan. 20, and approved separation agreements with two others, effective March 14 and June 7.

District officials declined to identify the employees by name.

In other personnel matters, the board hired two long-term substitute teachers, each at a prorated salary of $20,000 with no additional benefits. Stephanie Moga will fill a social studies position at Blairsville Middle School, and Heather Harteis will fill a chemistry slot at Saltsburg Middle/High School.

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