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Baldwin-Whitehall School District hires newly resigned board member at $120K a year

Martin Schmotzer

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Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

A longtime Baldwin-Whitehall school board member has become one of the district's highest-paid employees.

Martin Michael Schmotzer, 57, of Whitehall started on Wednesday in a new position that pays $120,000 a year, the third-highest salary in the district. His title: supervisor of projects for the school directors and special assistant to the superintendent.

No other public school in the state has an employee with that title, but there are six special assistants to superintendents, and 50 assistants to superintendents particular to instruction, Pennsylvania Department of Education records show for 2011-12.

Moments after he quit the board on Tuesday night, his colleagues hired Schmotzer in a 7-1 vote, giving him a five-year contract.

Schmotzer did not return calls seeking comment.

“We were looking at who could most step into that role and start efficiently doing that job on day one,” said board President Larry Pantuso. “Time is of the essence. ... He certainly has the ability to get things done.”

Schmotzer's term was set to expire at the end of the month, though he won another four-year term set to start in December. He did not submit a resumé, nor was he interviewed, Pantuso said. The job was not advertised. The hiring was not on the board's agenda.

Long involved in Democratic Party politics, Schmotzer has been on the school board off and on for 27 years. He was a state House member for eight months in 2012, filling the unexpired term of Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner, who resigned.

He was a member of Wagner's transition team for the county office.

Making a paid position for a board member might pose a conflict of interest if that person voted to do so or was involved in his or her hiring process, said Robert Caruso, executive director of the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission.

“If they didn't advertise the position, and they didn't conduct any interviews, you might wonder how the selection process was and whether that particular board member was a part of that selection process,” Caruso said.

Schmotzer owns BABS and Associates, a direct mail and consulting company.

His appointment to the new job was legal, district solicitor Bruce Dice said.

“They're not required to be advertised. They can create a position at any time,” he said.

The board considered Schmotzer's tenure as a school director to be a substitution for a job interview, Pantuso said.

In 1996, Schmotzer was charged with the theft of $50,000 from public accounts in the Allegheny County Clerk of Courts office while working as chief deputy for then-Clerk Joyce Lee Itkin. He repaid the money. A judge tossed out one theft charge when Schmotzer pleaded guilty. Court delays prompted a state appellate court to dismiss his convictions on four other theft counts. Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey Manning ordered his record expunged in 2006.

Having Schmotzer move from director to employee should not be cause for concern, Dice said.

“Absolutely not,” Dice said. “It's done frequently across the commonwealth.”

The state's Public School Code prohibits school directors from working for the district they are elected to serve, said Tim Eller, spokesman for the Education Department. But if someone resigns from a director's seat, there's nothing to prevent him or her from assuming a paid position.

Schmotzer's office is in the school board meeting room at the administration building, Superintendent Randal Lutz said.

The board's special meeting was advertised on Saturday. Board member Tracy Macek voted against hiring Schmotzer.

“I believe that my vote speaks for itself,” Macek said.

Schmotzer will help draft a five-year strategic plan, review policies and act as an intermediary between local and state government officials, Pantuso said.

“Nothing is ever noneducational,” Lutz said. “If it's noneducational, like a budgetary item, then it still affects education in some way.”

Baldwin-Whitehall is among the largest school districts in the South Hills, with a $69 million budget and about 4,000 students.

Staff writer Melissa Daniels contributed to this report. Stephanie Hacke is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

 

 

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