Baldwin-Whitehall School Board hottest ticket in town
Residents who want to watch the Baldwin-Whitehall School Board in action now need numbered tickets to hand to a constable at the door before a meeting.
And those who don't have tickets to get inside the school board chambers must watch the meeting on a large TV screen in the Whitehall Elementary School cafeteria, several rooms away.
“I don't know much of what happened,” said Marcie Hock, 67, of Whitehall, who viewed the Jan. 15 meeting from the cafeteria. “At the end, we were all sitting there saying, ‘Did that vote go through?' It really was not what you could have expected.”
The board hired a high school assistant principal and voted on budgetary measures that night. Residents outraged by the November appointment of longtime school Director Martin Michael Schmotzer to a newly created administrative job with a $120,000 salary, moments after he resigned from the board, have continued to fill board meetings.
New public participation guidelines for attendance at Baldwin-Whitehall meetings took effect at the Jan. 15 meeting, after recent crowds led district leaders to move proceedings to other locations. The procedures will stay in effect for the foreseeable future, Superintendent Randal Lutz said.
Schmotzer resigned from the administrative job after two weeks, and was sworn in Dec. 4 to a new four-year term on the school board.
Fewer than a dozen residents typically attended school board meetings before November. The board majority agreed to hold meetings in the board chambers, where the room's capacity has been set at 87 people by fire officials and district architects, Lutz said.
That's why numbered tickets will be handed out to those wishing to attend meetings on a first-come, first-served basis up to 87.
But everyone, no matter where they're sitting, will be given the opportunity to comment during the public participation part of the meeting, Lutz said.
“No one will be denied that,” he said.
Baldwin-Whitehall's move to require that some residents watch board action from a different space isn't unique, when it comes to handling large attendances at public meetings, said Steve Robinson, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association's senior director of communications.
“There's nothing illegal about it. It's been done in other places,” he said, although he said he doesn't know how often school districts have separated audiences into two rooms.
A 1999 Commonwealth Court ruling upheld the practice of video streaming, to accommodate a crowd larger than a board room could handle, Robinson said.
Some Baldwin-Whitehall residents are frustrated with the board's decision to hold meetings in the board room, which they say is an attempt to silence them.
“If you didn't have that golden ticket, you were a second-class citizen,” said Lora Kalwarski, 49, of Whitehall. “They want us to go away. It was a psychology tactic.”
Some residents who arrived early for the Jan. 15 meeting and secured tickets gave them away to others who were contemplating leaving the meeting.
Not all board members agree with the new guidelines.
“I am opposed, and I want the public to know, to streamlining video to the cafeteria,” board member Tracy Macek said as she motioned to move board meetings to the high school auditorium.
The motion failed 5-4, with Elliot Rambo, Patricia Nixon, Schmotzer, Diana Kazour and Ray Rosing voting to keep the meetings in the board room.
Lutz said he reviewed other venues, but many are in use by students on board meeting nights.
“I'm not a fan of displacing kids,” Lutz said.
The district will begin streaming meetings live onto its website in February, and will attempt to improve the quality of video streaming to the Whitehall Elementary cafeteria, Lutz said.
Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Brentwood meeting set to accept council members’ resignations
- Photo gallery: Brentwood car show draws crowds
- Brentwood officials committed to leveling municipal building
- Brentwood officials plan rules for overgrown trees
- Whitehall man’s hearing set for child pornography case
- Police investigating Baldwin Borough shooting
- Nonprofit provides backpacks to South Hills children
- Whitehall officials to examine borough parks