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Parents defend Greensburg Salem administrator

| Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

More than 75 people packed a Greensburg Salem school board meeting this week in support of embattled administrator Lisa Rullo and presented directors with a petition critical of the superintendent and some unnamed school directors.

Nine people who addressed the board Wednesday lauded Rullo's work in the district since 1996 and said the employment issues appear to be political.

Directors did not read the petitions, which were signed by 158 people, during the meeting.

“The taxpayers are concerned that the board is unaware of what is actually going on and has been duped by the superintendent, her attorney and a couple disgruntled board members into believing that this issue is about someone not performing her job well, when it is instead a fishing expedition instigated by a couple board members who have lost sight of their ethical and legal responsibilities,” the petition states.

On Thursday, Superintendent Eileen Amato disputed the claims made in the petition.

“We strongly disagree with the statements in this petition,” she said. “This matter is a personnel issue that is before the board in a public hearing. We are confident that all of the facts will be brought forth in this process, and the truth of the matter will be very clear to all.”

Rullo was not present at the board meeting, but her husband, Greensburg police officer Nick Rullo, and Nat Pantalone, a former school board president, attended.

The district had proposed demoting Rullo from her $134,996-a-year job as director of student and district services to an associate principal position at the high school.

Last Friday, attorneys for the school district and Rullo discussed a proposal to have a third party settle the dispute, Lisa Rullo said, declining to elaborate.

Except for two demotion hearings, held in public at Rullo's request, district officials have discussed her employment status in private on legal and personnel grounds.

“I feel an error in judgment has occurred and should be addressed,” said Dr. Ken Dzialowski, who presented the petition to directors.

At first, solicitor John Scales barred Dzialowski — he was the first speaker of the night — and others from talking about Rullo specifically. Scales maintained the school board may sit in judgment over Rullo's employment status one day and should not be influenced by outside comments.

Dzialowski, who said his free speech rights were wrongly limited, instead talked about “wasted money” because of matters involving Rullo.

Eventually, Scales relented after speaker after speaker in the standing-room-only crowd mentioned the administrator's name.

“I think this is a monumental waste of time, taxpayer dollars and resources,” John Boyle said.

He further told Scales to show him in the federal or state constitutions where school directors cannot hear concerns about an employment issue.

“There's no specific provision ... but jurors are never permitted to base” a decision on unsworn testimony, Scales replied.

“Politics,” Frank Valles said from the audience and later in a statement to the school board, to the vocal agreement of others.

“I urge you as parents, board members and human beings to stop, take time” and think about what the Rullo matter has done to the district, said Pam Dzialowski, a nurse in the school district and Ken Dzialowski's wife.

Becky Graham said she was upset that so much taxpayer money has been spent on attorney fees “to try to relieve Dr. Rullo of her position.”

As of Dec. 31, nearly $28,200 had been paid to school district attorney William Andrews or his firm in legal fees related to Rullo, district officials said last week.

The Rullo issue has “tarnished” the district's image, Graham said.

“This, along with recently published pension problems, have made our district look bad,” she added.

Last year, the state auditor general determined that nearly $141,000 in ineligible compensation was added to some former administrators' salaries, spiking their retirement checks.

The auditor general chastised school directors for giving added retirement incentives, totaling at least $43,000, to former superintendent Tom Yarabinetz and Tom Shipley, whose last position was acting superintendent. Directors said they saved money in the long run by enticing the long-serving administrators to retire.

“They (administrators) apparently wrote their own agreement and the board ... simply agreed to that,” Jim Barbe said.

RoseAnn Orr told directors that some residents believe there has been an “abuse of power.”

Connie Mattei referred to the pension problem and told directors they need to “raise the bar of the moral compass.”

Peggy Slezak praised Rullo for helping her daughter.

“She has always been an administrator who puts the needs of her students first,” Slezak said.

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or bstiles@tribweb. com.

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