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Nepotism issues in district again brought before board

| Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013, 12:11 a.m.

When Joe D'Andrea began to address ongoing nepotism problems in the Laurel Highlands School District on Thursday night, Superintendent Jesse Wallace advised him it is illegal to discuss personnel issues at a public meeting.

Wallace told D'Andrea, husband of school board member Jamie Miller-D'Andrea, that he could not discuss specific school board members and their relatives who have been hired as district employees at an open meeting.

Instead, Wallace told D'Andrea that he would give him the opportunity to address those issues with school board members during an executive session.

However, D'Andrea did not pursue his option to air his concerns in a closed-door meeting.

When asked Friday morning to explain the incident, Wallace said there could be legal ramifications if inaccurate information would be disclosed at a public meeting.

“Whenever the school board is dealing with personnel issues, we are required by law to discuss those issues behind closed doors,” he said. “The reason for that is because someone could provide inaccurate information that could taint someone's reputation. The school district needs to protect the rights of individuals, including school board members, employees and the public.”

Wallace confirmed that nepotism has been discussed in the school district for many years.

Several years ago, Jamie Miller-D'Andrea, who is an educator in another school district, applied for the federal funds coordinator position in the Laurel Highlands School District.

School board members hired Jessica Vernon Scott, daughter of school board member Tom Vernon, for the position. As a result, D'Andrea filed a lawsuit against the school district, claiming age discrimination. The case has been resolved.

“There have been several incidents in the school district where there have been allegations of nepotism,” Wallace said. “Those have involved assistant principal, principal and the federal funds coordinator positions.

“When we have a case where a job applicant is related to a school board member, the board member always abstains or passes when the hiring vote is taken,” he said.

Wallace said the school district has discussed the possibility of adopting an anti-nepotism policy in the past, but action has not been taken.

“I feel that an anti-nepotism policy could handicap the school district,” he said. “Family members of school board members do apply for jobs. We would hate to lose the best candidate for the position because their mom, dad, aunt or uncle are school board members.

“If someone is the best person for the job, he or she should be hired even if they are related to a board member,” he added.

Wallace said he expects school board members to discuss the nepotism issue at upcoming policy committee meetings.

Cindy Ekas is a contributing writer.

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