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Furloughed Westmoreland teachers file suit over awarding of job

| Friday, Dec. 27, 2013, 12:13 a.m.

Five furloughed Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center teachers have sued the Greensburg Salem School District, claiming one of them should have been hired for an open math teaching job this year.

Colleen Conko of Mt. Pleasant, Kathy Evkovich of Irwin, Daniel Lusk of Bentleyville, Sabine Lynn of Belle Vernon and Marie T. Murphy of Hempfield, who have taught a combined 45 years and are all certified to teach math, filed the suit this week in Westmoreland County Court.

They claim they lost their jobs in 2010-11 when Greensburg Salem and nine other school districts decided to offer in-house math classes for their vo-tech students, rather than using math classes offered by the vo-tech school in New Stanton.

Belle Vernon Area, Frazier, Mt. Pleasant Area, Norwin, Jeannette, Hempfield Area, Penn-Trafford, Southmoreland and Yough are the other school districts, according to the civil complaint.

Earlier this month, county Judge Richard E. McCormick Jr. dismissed a similar suit by some of the same teachers filed against Penn-Trafford. Those teachers have appealed that decision to state Superior Court, according to court records.

In filing the more recent suit for the five teachers, the Pennsylvania State Education Association asked the judge to rule that Greensburg Salem must fill secondary-school math vacancies using the furloughed teachers. The teachers further ask the court for any wages or benefits lost because of Greensburg Salem's actions this year, according to the complaint.

The suit was triggered when Greensburg Salem hired a full-time math teacher in June who wasn't one of the five furloughed teachers.

The teachers claim the state Transfer of Entities Act requires school districts to hire them for vacant positions. School district officials have contended otherwise in similar actions in county court.

McCormick ruled the transfer law did not apply in the Penn-Trafford case.

“The math class that was at (the vo-tech school) was not dismantled and then reconstituted at the high school,” McCormick's opinion states.

“Accordingly, we find — as did Commonwealth Court — that because there was no program or course ‘transfer,' there was no obligation on the part of the school district to hire one of the furloughed teachers,” the judge said.

New Castle attorney Katherine M. Voye, representing the five teachers, Greensburg Salem Superintendent Eileen Amato and district solicitor John Scales couldn't be reached for comment on Thursday.

Why the school districts decided to offer in-house programs is not stated in the complaint. Penn-Trafford officials said they wanted a change because of poor scores the vo-tech students were achieving on state tests.

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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