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Gateway School Board turns down hefty donation

| Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012, 9:00 p.m.

While a majority of Gateway school directors say the decision to reduce athletic director Terry Smith's position to half time was based on a lack of funding, some Smith supporters maintain the decision was personal.

The school board approved the decision July 11, moments after school directors learned of a $57,000 donation from former Steeler and entrepreneur Chuck Sanders. The check was signed over to the district for the purpose of maintaining Smith's full-time status. A majority of school directors rejected the donation and voted 8-1 to reduce the athletic director position to half time.

School board President Dave Magill said he took exception to someone telling him how the donation should be spent.

“I'm not going to have someone say, ‘Here's $57,000, put it in to robotics. We just don't do that ... at that time, we were more interested in giving (money) to academics and all-day kindergarten.”

After teacher concessions and increased enrollment, the district has since recalled all furloughed teaching positions, restored academic programming at the high school and added full-day kindergarten at all elementary buildings.

While the $57,000 donation was on its way to the podium July 11, Magill ended the public-comment section and motioned for a vote. He said later that acting Superintendent Bob Reger and Solicitor Bruce Dice said it was a bad idea to accept the donation. Neither Reger nor Dice could be reached for comment.

“What they did is pretty self-explanatory,” Smith said. He declined further comment.

Whether the decision was financial, personal, or both, the fight to keep Smith could be in vain.

As it stands, he has until Jan. 1 to decide if he'll step down as athletic director to keep his head coaching job, or vice versa. Smith said he's weighing his options.

A Gateway parent group organized in support of Smith hoped the school board would use the $57,000 donation to help fund Smith's full-time status, in addition to his head-coaching duties for the current year, said Tammy Richardson, a member of the Concerned Citizens of Monroeville. The group planned to raise funds to support the full-time position in future years.

When Smith supporters pressed the issue in the days after the vote, they received a letter from Dice.

“At the present time, no full-time position for the athletic director exists at Gateway School District,” wrote Dice. “Secondly, a part-time position has been approved. Third, a budget has been approved allocating proceeds to fund the part-time position.”

School director Bill Bailey, who voted against reducing Smith's position to part time, said he wanted to accept the check.

“Since Terry became the head coach, it's a highly winning successful team,” Bailey said. “He puts a lot of his personal time in. The students appreciate that. I thought the board would've accepted (the donation) to make up the difference.”

The school board also voted that an athletic director cannot act as a head coach of any sport. School director Steve O'Donnell said in July that an athletic director doubling as a head coach creates a conflict of interest.

Some residents have criticized the size of the 2011-12 athletic budget, which included Smith's $93,000 salary in addition to the $11,000 he earned for coaching. School director Skip Drumheller said last week that an administrator should not be permitted to earn supplemental funding.

Drumheller is heading an audit of the athletic department and football boosters.

“Before, the boosters weren't accountable and didn't have to answer to us,” Magill said. “We're making sure the funds that the kids are raising are going where they're supposed to go.”

“It's constantly a personal attack on football,” said Bobbie Robak, vice president of the Gateway Football Boosters Association. “It's so blatant.”

Parents have complained in recent years about transfer students from the City of Pittsburgh and other districts earning starting positions over students who were born and raised in Gateway, Magill said.

Richardson said that when her son played Midget football 10 years ago, some parents thought their children were entitled to an eventual starting position on the varsity team.

“When that stopped happening, it became a problem for folks,” she said.

Bailey said that similar complaints were directed toward his son in the 1980s, when his family moved to Monroeville and his son became the starting running back.

“This is a close community of people. Maybe some of them don't like outsiders coming in and displaying ability greater than what the current residents have,” Bailey said.

Residents also have taken issue with recent blowouts by Gateway. The team's 61-6 victory over Latrobe this year drew criticism from 2011 school board President Jim Rosipal.

“Once again, our illustrious head coach doesn't know when to stop putting too many points on the board,” he wrote in a Facebook post directed toward Smith. “There is a big difference between beating a team and beating down a team. It should be for the kids, not for you.”

Smith said the head coach for Latrobe thanked him for subbing in second- and third-string players.

“Every kid on our team played a minimum of two quarters,” Smith said.

Hundreds of Smith supporters have praised him for the scholarships he has helped students earn over the years, saying he's a positive role model for students.

Nearly 1,000 people showed up to the July 11 school board meeting, some of them saying the decision to reduce the position held by Smith was racially motivated. O'Donnell later said that people shouting from their seats and accusations of racism were an embarrassment to the district.

Smith is a Gateway graduate and has been the AD for about nine years.

Kyle Lawson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8755, or klawson@tribweb.com.

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