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Baldwin-Whitehall board president: Hiring process 'flawed'

| Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

A move to name Baldwin-Whitehall School District's facilities director Paul Svirbel as the new director of operations moments after the job was created brought applause from the audience.

Yet the board member — who four months ago was appointed to a high-paying job that was not advertised and interviews were not conducted — objected to the process being used in this case.

Again, this job was not posted for public advertisement and the only interviews conducted were on-the-job, Superintendent Randal Lutz said.

“I have heard, I have listened and I have understood the outcries of people who want transparency and who want things in a process,” longtime school board member Martin Michael Schmotzer told his colleagues at their March 12 meeting. “I think when people talk about being upset, they talk about a process not being followed.”

Hundreds of residents have attended school board meetings during the last several months, seeking answers for the board's Nov. 19 actions to hire Schmotzer for a job moments after he resigned from his seat on the school board, agreeing to pay him $120,000 a year for five years. Two weeks later, Schmotzer resigned from the job, which he has said was needed because the district did not have a director of operations position, and was sworn in that night to a new term on the school board.

Board members discussed the shift in positions for Svirbel during two executive sessions, board President Larry Pantuso said.

“I asked four times and there was no problem with it. So if we're going to talk about process, then the whole process is flawed,” Pantuso said. “We shouldn't wait until this point…. If we're going to talk about a process, the process stinks.”

An initial motion to appoint Svirbel to the director of operations job was rescinded after Schmotzer pointed out there was no such job title in the district.

Board members unanimously approved the creation of the director of operations position that will oversee operations duties for the facilities department, as well as food services and transportation, Lutz said.

Board members, then, in an 8-1 vote, approved Svirbel for the job. Schmotzer was the lone dissenter. The job is a lateral move, Lutz said, holding Svirbel's salary at $87,418.

District officials will look to hire someone for the facilities manager job to assist Svirbel, Lutz said.

“In facilities, we have one person that's expected to supervise a 24-hour shift and have it supervised seven days a week,” Lutz said.

Board members eliminated a custodial manager job in October. The facilities department will be the same size as it was before that job elimination, Lutz said.

Svirbel, will be the “owner's representative” for projects, such as $800,000 planned for access upgrades at four schools, where construction is set to start this spring.

“By doing those things, it makes it difficult for him to run around to different buildings, checking to make sure desks are wiped and boards are cleaned,” Lutz said. “Yes, we do need to take a look at someone to assist him.”

The director of operations job includes “additional responsibilities, but it also is a change in responsibilities, so that he doesn't have to be the one making sure that snow is shoveled and weeds are cut,” Lutz said.

Whitehall resident Deb Baranowski said residents who have showed since November want transparency from the board.

She questioned why Svirbel already didn't have help.

A list, requested by Schmotzer in the last few months, looking at teachers who were “handed jobs,” or did not go through the appropriate process of interviews and advertisements, was completed. Yet, because the list has names of district employees, district officials said it was being withheld from the public.

Pantuso said the names of the teachers will be removed so the list can be given to the residents, with only positions showing.

Schmotzer said a list of administrators who were hired in a similar fashion will be sought next.

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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