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Baldwin-Whitehall board rejects donation request for Franklin Regional

| Wednesday, May 14, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

Baldwin-Whitehall School Board members have rejected a colleague's attempt to support those injured in a mass stabbing at Franklin Regional several weeks ago by donating other people's money.

“As much as I would like to help those children, I don't know if this is an appropriate use of our taxpayer funds,” board member Patricia Nixon said.

Board member Martin Michael Schmotzer last week proposed that Baldwin-Whitehall use district funds to donate $21,000 to help students injured in an April 9 stabbing to the We Are FR fund, representing $1,000 for each injured student.

Board members rejected the idea in a 5-3 vote with Schmotzer, Vice President Ray Rosing and member Elliot Rambo voting in support of the donation. Board member Diana Kazour was absent.

Schmotzer said he planned to reintroduce the idea at Wednesday night's school board meeting, which took place after the South Hills Record's deadline.

Schmotzer, who said he was “shocked and ashamed” by his colleagues' dissent, said the idea for the donations came from his daughter, Victoria, with the premise that “actions speak louder than words.”

“What happened in Franklin Regional did not just affect Franklin Regional. It affected every school district, not only in Pennsylvania, but this was a national story,” said Schmotzer, who recommended every school district in Western Pennsylvania donate to the fund to “show solidarity.”

Schmotzer also suggested sending a $1,000 check to a security guard injured in the school stabbing.

Solicitor Bruce Dice said the district could not donate from its operating budget to an individual, but it was allowed to give money to a nonprofit organization.

We Are FR has not been set up as a formal nonprofit organization because as organizers are attempting to get funds quickly to the injured, said Jill Cooper, a Franklin Regional parent and We Are FR committee member. No school districts have donated to the fund from their operating budgets, Cooper said. Instead, many of the donations to We Are FR are coming from fundraisers and donations from individuals, groups and sports teams, such as the Peters Township volleyball team, which donated $425 from snack sales and a 50/50 raffle at a recent game.

The fund was set up by four Franklin Regional residents to help meet the needs of the injured students and those affected by the incident. Other schools have shown support in other ways, such as making banners, Cooper said.

We Are FR has raised about $30,000, with an additional $14,700 pledged from a Pittsburgh Pirates and Pirates Charities 50/50 raffle.

Schmotzer said Baldwin-Whitehall has the money to make such donation, but other officials said the idea was a “slippery slope.”

Superintendent Randal Lutz said he is unaware of any such donations made from district funds in the past.

Students at the high school already are working on fundraisers for Franklin Regional.

Determining which causes deserve a donation from district coffers could become problematic if a precedent is set, the board president said.

“It's a horrible, horrible tragedy,” Baldwin-Whitehall board President Larry Pantuso said. “God forbid something happens tomorrow in X, Y, Z school district and a month from now it happens somewhere else.… I don't know where we draw the line. ... If we all want to take up an individual donation and donate money out of our pockets, I think that's a noble thing. I don't know that we make a $22,000 donation with taxpayer money.”

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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