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Saltsburg volunteer football coach ousted in split vote

Jeff Himler
| Friday, Aug. 30, 2013, 1:48 p.m.

Conemaugh Township Supervisor Bill Petro no longer has the additional role of volunteer Saltsburg football coach following a 6-3 vote by the Blairsville-Saltsburg School Board.

Members of the Saltsburg football team turned out in force at the board's Aug. 21 meeting to support Petro's bid to continue with the high school coaching assistance he's provided since 1991. School board member Holly Hall, who participated in the meeting at Blairsville Middle/High School via a remote phone link, also praised Petro and his contributions as a coach.

But Hall and fellow school directors Holly Gibson and Rick Harper were overruled by remaining board members who opted against keeping Petro on as a volunteer coach for the 2013-14 school year. Casting opposing votes were Beverly Caranese, George Rowley, Mary Whitfield, Linda Brown, Anthony Canzano and board President Ed Smith.

Petro protested that he'd never been told why his volunteer coaching status wasn't being renewed and pointed out that he'd been recommended to continue as a volunteer by Saltsburg's head football coach and the athletic director.

“I've worked with four different head coaches and never had a complaint,” Petro said. “I was approved the last two years as a volunteer. Why am I being denied as a volunteer coach?”

Steve Richards, a senior member of the Saltsburg Trojans football team, urged the board to retain Petro as a coach. “He cares about the program and he cares about us, not only as players but as people,” Richards said of Petro.

Petro and Hall both publicly voiced the opinion that Petro's ouster from the district coaching staff was the result of a vendetta against him for backing Hall's campaign for a school board seat from the Saltsburg end of the district in 2011. Hall lost to Caranese, who won election to her second term on the board. Hall later was appointed to a vacancy on the school board.

In a statement she read during the meeting, Hall also charged that the decision to oust Petro had been made before the advertised Aug. 21 meeting through an “opinion poll conducted by the superintendent's office” — which she cited as an example of district officials circumventing the intent of Pennsylvania's Sunshine Law that board business be conducted in a public forum.

Petro added that he has reportedly been accused, in his role of Conemaugh supervisor, of costing the district $150,000 for township land that was needed in 2009 for construction of the current elementary school addition to the Saltsburg Middle/High School. Petro rebutted that idea, providing board members with documents indicating the property was transferred to the district for a token $1 price.

Before the board members cast their vote on Petro's coaching post, Caranese responded to Hall's statement and said that her decision on the matter was not motivated by a vendetta.

“Since I'm the one that ran with Holly, obviously the fingers are pointing at me,” Caranese said, but she added, “I don't run my life on vendettas or revenge.

“I vote my conscience.... I vote what I feel in my heart, what I feel is right... It's not about being vindictive or about a vendetta. It's not about that. I'm not that kind of a person.”

In other personnel matters, the school board hired four new teachers. Instructor Ashley Helgert will receive a salary of $52,545, representing the first step of the master's pay scale plus $200 extra due to her assignment as a special education teacher. Heather Kress and Amanda Steel will each be paid $52,345, the first step of the master's scale, while Kaitlyn Stanoski will receive $50,882, the first step of the bachelor's scale.

The board accepted the resignations of Jessica Pritts, a guidance counselor and key staffer for the district's virtual academy and alternative education programs, and of Lacie Cook, a learning support teacher at Saltsburg Middle/High School. The board agreed to advertise for replacements for the two faculty members if needed.

The Blairsville-Saltsburg panel also approved two long-term substitute teachers, effective Aug. 23, with each receiving a prorated salary of $20,000. Mark DeMarines will teach health and physical education at Blairsville Middle/High School for the 2013-14 academic year. Jessica Forman will teach math at Saltsburg Middle/High School during the leave of absence of Megan Decker.

The school board hired Natasha Bonatch as a full-time custodian at Blairsville High  School and recalled two furloughed support staff members — Kimberly Knupp and Lorraine Henry — effective Aug. 28.

Family Medical Leaves of Absence were approved for: Saltsburg Elementary instructional aide Bonnie Bell and Saltsburg campus attendance officer Wanda Cunningham, each intermittently during 2013-14; and Blairsville secondary art teacher Courtney Scherf, from Dec. 1 through about Feb. 24.

Kathy Muir was approved as math department chair at Saltsburg Middle/High School.

The board approved four volunteer coaches: Tascha Morris, with the Blairsville High School cheering program; Andrew Anderson, with Saltsburg High School football; Jim Buckles, with Blairsville High School football; and Mitchell Fox, with the district cross country program.

The board also heard from Ryan Maher, a state police officer and parent of children who attend school at the Blairsville end of the district. Maher has repeatedly urged the district to hire armed school resource officers to enhance security at its two campuses.

He asked what has been done over the summer months to increase security at district schools and cited state legislation that could help pay for school resource officers.

Maher referred to an Aug. 20 shooting incident at an elementary school near Atlanta, Ga. While no one was injured in that incident, he noted, “The threat to our children has not gone away.”

After several months of debate, a majority of school directors recently opted in favor of introducing increased security measures with existing staff in place rather than hiring armed officers.

Harper, who chairs the board's buildings and grounds committee, also mentioned the state legislation and said he would like to reopen board discussion of security measures.

Superintendent Tammy Whitfield acknowledged that the district does not have armed officers but indicated other security steps have been taken. She offered to discuss details later with Maher rather than at a public meeting so that the district's security measures would not become known to potential criminals.

Assistant Superintendent Ian Magness reported that Sept. 18 is the target date for the district to launch pre-kindergarten instruction for 3- and 4-year-old children through a state Pre-K Counts grant. He urged all district parents whose children are of the indicated ages to fill out an application and see if they qualify for the instruction, which has income-eligibility requirements.

In other business, the school board approved participation of district students in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12 in a Pennsylvania Youth Survey to be conducted through the Commission on Crime and Delinquency for the 2013-14 school year. Also, the district will participate in the I-CORE (Integrating Computational Reasoning) proposal by the Math and Science Collaborative to strengthen teaching and learning of biology.

Saltsburg fifth-graders were approved to visit Fort Necessity in Farmington on Oct. 1 and Fort Ligonier on Oct. 10 while the school's kindergarten students travel to Schramm's Farm on  Oct. 25. All of the field trips were approved under the condition that there will be no cost to the district.

Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or

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