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Residents seek changes for Baldwin-Whitehall school board

| Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013, 3:40 p.m.
Martin Schmotzer

A group of Baldwin-Whitehall residents are continuing to rally for the resignation of school board member Martin Michael Schmotzer, a month after board members appointed him to an administrative job which he later resigned.

A petition seeking Schmotzer and district solicitor Bruce Dice's removal or resignation was started Monday, with a goal of rallying 3,000 to support changes, said Lou Rainaldi, 43, of Whitehall. He started the online petition on change.org.

“I'm not a politician, but if you resign, then that's it, you can't come back,” Rainaldi said of Schmotzer, who resigned from his school board seat on Nov. 19, moments before being hired by the board in a 7-1 vote as the supervisor of special projects for the board of school directors and special assistant to the superintendent. The position paid $120,000 annually.

Schmotzer, 57, of Whitehall, resigned from that role two weeks later, on Dec. 4, and was sworn in to a new term on the school board. He was elected on Nov. 5 to serve the four-year term.

“He resigned and it's not right that he's back on the board,” Rainaldi said.

As for Dice, board members have said the process was vetted by him, so residents have lost “confidence in him,” Rainaldi said.

The latest petition has garnered more than 250 signatures in less than 24 hours.

The petition was started the same day a lawsuit filed against the district and Schmotzer in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court by Baldwin Borough resident Marion Shannon was discontinued.

The lawsuit had sought to ban Schmotzer from working in the district until his term in office would have ends in December 2017, citing any such job would be a violation of the state school code.

Shannon's lawyer Alan Shuckrow of Strassburger McKenna Gutnick & Gefsky, Dice, Schmotzer and Superintendent Randal Lutz could not be reached for comment.

Board President Larry Pantuso declined to comment on the lawsuit and petition.

This is the second petition that Rainaldi started. The first gained more than 1,300 signatures, seeking the removal of Schmotzer from the administrative job and the elimination of the position.

It also sought to have seats that were vacated and later filled by appointments, instead be brought to the residents for a vote during a special election.

Schmotzer's resignation from the assistant to the superintendent job, the elimination of the position and the board agreeing to move the Dec. 11 meeting to the Baldwin High School performing arts center, with the expected larger crowd turnout, all are seen as victories by residents who have been pressing the board for change, said Rainaldi, who also started the website, www.bwaction.com, as a way to keep residents informed about goings-on in the district.

“The public came through and is standing strong,” he said.

More than 250 people showed up at the meeting Dec. 4 meeting to express their dismay at Schmotzer's hiring and pressured him to stay off the board.

Another 300 residents attended the school board's meeting on Dec. 11, many once again questioning Schmotzer's administrative appointment. They planned to continue that trend last night.

Residents asked for transparency from the board over the issue.

“The giant attendance at the last two board meetings reflects just how roiled the community is,” said Whitehall resident Ronald Covato, 70, who worked for 38 years as a school administrator with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit.

And they're not done yet.

“This is going to be a long haul. We may have to wait until the election to bring honesty back to this board,” Rainaldi said.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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