BVA board fields student bullying, hiring complaints
From dismissing a varsity swim coach to addressing bullying issues, the Belle Vernon Area school board Monday spent most of its agenda meeting fielding complaints from resid ents.
Dana Marchines told the board her 10-year-old daughter is being continually bullied by a 10-year-old boy. Both are students at Marion Elementary in Washington Township.
Marchines said her daughter continues to be physically and socially bullied by the boy throughout the school day to the point of being ill, and that nothing was done by administrators after she addressed the board at last month's meeting.
Marchines alleged she was told by district officials to ride out the situation because there were only so many days left in the school year and said she felt the continuing bullying would be “swept under the rug.”
Board President Aaron Bialon said Superintendent Dr. John Wilkinson would “develop a course of action,” but refused to interact further with Machines after she stated she contacted the state Department of Education.
“Once you presented this, I have to stop all conversation at this point,” Bialon told her.
After the meeting, Wilkinson said the district was not turning a blind eye to the purported incidents and that “the district has addressed the documented complaints and followed through with appropriate discipline.”
Former Belle Vernon Area guidance counselor Gloria Yuschak quizzed the board as to why it recently hired Stephanie McHugh as Director of Counseling Services at an $83,000 annual salary.
School director John Nusser took exception to her arguments, lauding the hands-on consultation being supplied by McHugh to his daughter, a high school student, and other students.
“You have an $80,000 administrator that wasn't needed,” Yuschak argued. “It really bothers me that whatever is decided by Dr. Wilkinson anymore, he can bring in anybody he wants, and you're just hiring without thinking about the consequences of the salaries. ... Where did the $80,000 come from?”
“Hiring and budgetary transfers happen all the time,” Bialon answered. “I believe the board felt it was appropriate and necessary ... so I don't know what the complaint is.”
“People that come and run for school boards always say, ‘I want to save the taxpayers money', and all of a sudden we are making additional administrative positions which are not necessary,” Yuschak said.
“We've not had tax increases,” Bialon said. “Until that, in fact, happens, then come and say, ‘I told you so.' But it has not happened and we don't anticipate that happening.”
Two residents spoke out in opposition of the board opening the position of varsity boys and girls swimming coach Rob Reda.
The job opening was not listed on the board's agenda. Both Bialon and board member Toni-Jo Kunka said the board's action on Reda was a “performance issue”.
“We discussed it and I'm sorry to say (Reda) probably doesn't know,” Kunka said, when questioned whether the coach was aware of the board action.
Director Joe Grata referenced a divide between groups of swim parents whose kids swim for separate clubs.
“You have competing swim clubs and yet those kids are expected to compete for the same Belle Vernon Area team,” Grata said. “I understand the administration and the athletic director spent hours trying to resolve this and it's beyond me why these people can't come together when what we should think about first and foremost are the kids.”
Bialon took the issue a step further when questioning of the decision continued.
“I saw the animosity and the problems,” Bialon said of the divide. “He's (Reda) entitled to reapply and see if he has ideas on how to correct that situation.”
During its voting session, the board:
• Accepted the resignations of mathematics department head Luann Jolley, Consumer Science Club sponsor Kathy Delcotto and varsity wrestling coach Tyler Nauman.
Grata cast the lone “no” vote against accepting Nauman's resignation, leaving the district to hire a third wrestling mentor in three seasons.
“I'm not sure he really wanted to leave,” Grata said of Nauman after the meeting. “Some parents interfere and exert undue pressure on this wrestling program. What is the message we're sending the kids with no continuity and what message are we sending the parents who bring this undue pressure?”
• Approved the following rates for substitute teachers for the 2014-2015 school year: $80 per day on a day-to-day basis; $90 per day provided the sub remained on the same assignment for 30 days with no break in service; $100 per day provided the sub remained on the same assignment for 90 days with no break in service.
• Hired the following assistant varsity football coaches at a $6,201 salary: Scott Knee, Chet Welc, Brett Berish, Brandon Livsey and Jim Trenk by a 6-2 vote. Board members Kunka and Ed Naylor voted against the hires.
• Adopted new district polices for medication distribution to students in case of emergencies and to allow audio recording on the district's 32 school buses.
The district had already been able to record video, but can now obtain audio thanks to a recent change in state law, according to Bialon. Should some issue or altercation occur, administrators could better deduce the situation with both visual and audio recordings, he said.
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2635.