Schmotzer's hiring by Baldwin-Whitehall 'apparently an illegal appointment,' Dept. of Education spokesman says
The appointment of former board member Martin Michael Schmotzer to a $120,000-a-year administrative position with Baldwin-Whitehall School District may violate Pennsylvania law, but the state Department of Education said Friday that it has no authority to do anything about it.
“It appears to be an illegal appointment of an individual,” department spokesman Tim Eller told the Tribune-Review.
The Public School Code says school board directors cannot be employed by their district “during the term for which he was elected or appointed.” The state interprets “during the term” to apply to all four years, even if directors have resigned, Eller said, meaning they can be hired only after their term has expired.
The Department of Education does not have authority to address a violation, Eller said. The code applies to school board directors, who are elected officials. But the code does provide a mechanism for at least 10 resident taxpayers to petition the Court of Common Pleas to remove one or more school board members who have failed or neglected to perform their duties outlined in the law.
Pennsylvania School Boards Association spokesman Steve Robinson wrote in an email that the organization interprets Section 324 as running with the term of the school director regardless of resignation. “However, school solicitors may have a different interpretation of the law as there are no appellate cases that we are aware of that interpret the statute.”
Eller said there are exceptions in the code to allow school directors to be hired as teachers, solicitors or secretaries to boards of directors.
At a special district meeting on Tuesday, Schmotzer resigned from the board of directors. The board voted to establish the position of supervisor of special projects for the board of directors and special assistant to the superintendent. Schmotzer was hired to the post in a 7-1 vote. Only Director Tracy Macek opposed, telling the Trib that her vote spoke for itself.
Two people were appointed to the board during the meeting before the Schmotzer vote — one to replace Schmotzer and one to replace Kevin Fischer, who resigned a week before the meeting because he was elected to a seat on Baldwin Borough Council. They were replaced on the board by Patricia Nixon and Elliot Rambo, a former legislative intern of Schmotzer's at the state House. Both joined the majority in making the new position and hiring Schmotzer.
The next day, the district sent a memo to all employees saying Schmotzer “assumed the role” of supervisor and special assistant, outlining his responsibilities as forming a strategic plan and working with department heads, among duties.
Schmotzer, a state representative for eight months, was a school board member for several years. He started his latest term in December 2012. He was re-elected in a general election this month and set to start a new four-year term on Dec. 1.
Because Schmotzer was elected to a new term, he would not be allowed to work for the district until Dec. 1, 2017, Eller said.
Schmotzer is not listed in the district's phone directory. Messages left for him, the superintendent, district Solicitor Bruce Dice and board President Larry Pantuso were not returned. This week, Dice told the Tribune-Review that Schmotzer's appointment was legal.
As of Thursday, Schmotzer's contract was not finalized.
Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.