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Belle Vernon Area board sweetens deal for superintendent

| Tuesday, July 24, 2012, 8:59 a.m.

New Belle Vernon Area Superintendent Dr. John Wilkinson has found a home - and the school board seems eager to make it a permanent one.

On Monday, the board approved a plan to extend Wilkinson's contract an additional two years on top of his current three-year deal. The former Baldwin administrator also received a one-time $7,500 retroactive bonus.

Wilkinson, hired March 12, took over for Superintendent Stephen Russell, whose retirement began July 1.

The board held off on an initial five-year contract because of pending state legislation that would prevent such a deal. However, the law does not take effect until Nov. 1.

Wilkinson will receive $130,000 annually, with a potential 2 percent increase for the 2013-2014 school year, and a 3 percent pay increase for the 2014-2015 year, depending on board evaluations. Russell would have been paid $137,000 without taking a pay freeze.

Because of Monday's unanimous approval, Solicitor Gregory Gleason will draw up the details for next month's board meeting on the additional contract.

In the vote to pay Wilkinson for work performed from March through June, only Secretary Dan Sepesky voted "nay."

Board member Ed Naylor abstained on both votes, saying he was not present for previous relevant "discussions."

Vice President Toni-Jo Kunka, acting for absent President Aaron Bialon, said the bonus was not only deserved but earned, because Wilkinson was not on the payroll until July 1.

"To be very honest with you, if we would not have Dr. Wilkinson here, we would be raising taxes in Belle Vernon Area school district," Kunka said.

"Dr. Wilkinson put together a plan to save us $1 million, if not more, in furloughs and offering an incentive plan for older teachers to take retirement so we could keep younger teachers at a lower salary."

"He put in many, many hours into our school district, and he could have basically slid into Stephen Russell's job and not done a thing, and we would have raised taxes."

Board member Joe Grata concurred: "Had we prorated the amount of time that he documented, the compensation we have now approved would be twice that amount, at a minimum."

Sepesky then replied, "That's not audited though. I'd have to get that audited," to which Wilkinson retorted with a laugh, "I would be happy to get that audited."

"There was a tremendous amount of work, about 280 hours I put in, and I wanted to choose something that the board and I felt was fair that was not over and above what Mr. Russell would have made this year," Wilkinson said afterward.

"I had worked very hard to hone my skills to be leader of a school district É and I plan to finish my career here."

In other action, the board:

• Approved an online substitute teacher calling system designed to enable substitutes to plan ahead for the absence of full-time teachers and download lesson plans, among other advantages. The one-time setup and training fee is $5,750. The system costs $3,900 a year.

• Approved a medical benefit plan service by the Horace Mann company for health care and daycare for employees at no cost to taxpayers.

• Tabled proposals to send the varsity baseball team to a spring tournament in South Carolina and another to install "jumbo blocks and caps" at the entrance to Marion Elementary and Bellmar Middle School now that the sewage project is complete. The board is seeking more details on both proposals.

• Reappointed Dr. Marc Cordero as school doctor at the rate of $16,000 per year and Dr. Eugene Scaramucci as school dentist at a cost of $3.50 per student for the upcoming school year.

• Approved volunteer varsity football coaches Scott Bryer and Jon Krepps for the 2012 season.

• Opened the position of student council sponsor at Rostraver Middle School while approving the resignations of French teacher Zachary Gouzd, middle school football coach Mike Fields and high school equipment manager Mark Cook.