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Residents continue to press school board for answers about job for Schmotzer

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Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
 

Tempers continue to flare, shouting matches routinely erupt, and motions to adjourn mid-meeting have become routine in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District.

More than 80 residents still are flocking to meetings twice each month to question board members about their actions several months ago, when they appointed one of their own to an administrative job that would have paid him $120,000 a year over a five-year contract.

Yet even as the answers trickle in, residents and board members continue to butt heads publicly at meetings.

“I feel bad for people who can't move past it because you're obviously stuck in a rut,” school board President Larry Pantuso told residents who attended the contentious Feb. 12 meeting. “We've moved past it. I don't know what else I can say about it except if you really want to move past it, then let's see the action.”

Residents have continued to challenge the board about the circumstances surrounding board member Martin Michael Schmotzer's resignation from his board seat and near immediate hiring for a newly created job that made him the district's third-highest-paid employee.

The job was not advertised, and Schmotzer was not interviewed.

Schmotzer, 57, of Whitehall, resigned from that job Dec. 4 and was sworn in that night for a new four-year term on the school board resulting from his win in the November election.

“It's out of frustration that these people are here. They're yelling at you out of frustration,” Whitehall resident Lora Kalwarski said.

Board Vice President Ray Rosing last week explained why he supported the creation of the job and hiring Schmotzer.

“The position was to eliminate a lot of problems for the administration,” Rosing said. It would allow administrators, then, to “concentrate on education,” he said.

“I thought it was a good position. I still think we need it,” Rosing said. “Maybe we could have done it a different way. I'm not arguing with that.”

Schmotzer's experience with the district made him the right man for the job, Rosing said.

Schmotzer is a Democratic leader who served in the state House of Representatives for eight months in 2012.

“I know a lot of people don't like him, and that's the problem,” Rosing said. “We could have hired a homeless man off the street, and you wouldn't be here right now, and that's the truth.”

The job still is needed, said Rosing, who during a heated meeting last month made a failed motion to adjourn.

“We had a good position, a good person for it, and he resigned. I told him not to,” Rosing said. “He did it because he didn't want anybody that voted for him to take any flak.”

Residents derisively applauded Rosing's comments and shouted, “Wow!” and “Ew!”

“That's the problem,” Rosing snapped back. “I mean, come on, let's grow up here, too. It's a meeting. Respect goes both ways.”

Kalwarski told board members that they aren't getting why the residents continue to press the issue.

“We're talking about making our kids do the right thing. You're sitting at the top, and you didn't do the right thing. How do you expect our kids to do it? How do you expect anybody in this community to do the right thing?” she asked. “We are here packing these meetings because we're asking you to do the right thing.”

Schmotzer told Kalwarski she has “no credibility” and made a failed motion to adjourn the Feb. 12 meeting, as other residents stood in line waiting to speak during the public-comment period.

Schmotzer said he shouldn't be the residents' only target.

“If you think I'm a little bit upset about the personal targets, I am,” Schmotzer said. “I think enough is enough. And I think if you were very honest (and upset) with the process, then you'd get up to the microphone, and you'd start blasting other people who were handed jobs.”

On Feb. 5, Schmotzer asked Superintendent Randal Lutz to create a list of employees who had been hired in the last three years without having an interview or having their job advertised. He revised his request last week to limit his request to the 2012-13 school year.

“If we're going to talk about process, then let's talk about all the process and all the positions,” Schmotzer 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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