Weiss withdraws as Penn Hills’ special counsel for recovery
Attorney Ira Weiss has withdrawn as special counsel for Penn Hills School District’s chief recovery officer one day after school board members publicly questioned the legality of Weiss’ appointment.
The Pittsburgh-based firm Weiss Burkardt Kramer LLC submitted a letter to district officials informing them of the decision Tuesday.
Weiss said via email to the Tribune-Review that his firm was retained by state-appointed recovery officer Daniel Matsook to do work on labor relations issues.
“I attended several meetings and performed related services,” he said. “Our firm serves as special counsel to the district on special education matters and has done so for some period of time predating the recovery status …We did not solicit this work and we were happy to assist the District in this difficult time.”
School board members at a fiance committee meeting Monday said no agreement with Weiss for the aforementioned recovery work was approved by the school board.
“I respect Ira Weiss totally, but we didn’t need another attorney at $165 an hour,” board President Erin Vecchio said.
Matsook said after that meeting his contract with Weiss did not bind the district, and their fees would not be paid through Penn Hills coffers.
“I signed it because, if it’s related to the transitional loan, which the district’s going to get, I figure my name shows that it’s coming out of that fund and not the district fund,” he said. “That doesn’t bind the district. The board has to approve it. To get it approved, it has to go through committee and then to the board. I just forwarded it to the board.”
Vecchio claimed Matsook violated school code by skipping the committee step.
“That was a little shocking to me that (Weiss) had been retained to do stuff,” said Rob Marra, board member and former district treasurer. “We never approved him, and it never went through the board in the first place. We’re still trying to get a resolution on what the recovery officer can do without board approval.”
Weiss’ recovery plan work was part of a miscommunication between Matsook and the board that resulted in its members submitting a letter to the state Department of Education asking for his removal as the recovery officer.
Board members said they have not received a response from the state.
Matsook, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday, previously said he was out of the district when the letter was submitted, and believes matters could have been resolved before hand had he had the chance to speak with district officials.
Weiss said his firm was recommended to Matsook by Vecchio. But Vecchio claimed she talked about Weiss’ special education efforts, not about them working on recovery plan matters.
Marra plans to ask for an itemized statement if Weiss’ firm bills the district.
“If it’s with special education, that’s fine,” Marra said.
The state put Penn Hills in financial recovery status in January and appointed Matsook in February to help turn things around.
District officials approved a financial recovery plan June 29. State Department of Education officials did the same in mid-July.
It’s available for review on the district’s website, phsd.k12.pa.us.
Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, [email protected] or via Twitter .