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Letter continues to bring controversy

| Friday, May 1, 2009

An anonymous letter read aloud at a Southmoreland School Board meeting earlier this month by Board President Sam Accipiter generated discussion again at Thursday's meeting.

The letter alleged that a meeting was held at the Scottdale Sons of Italy on March 18 and that board members Tony Lizza, Ken Alt, Joe Eckman, candidate Larry Newcomer and district janitor Rusty Kuhns plotted changes they hoped to make within the district once they had taken over the board.

Some of those changes, according to the letter, included: fire solicitor Dave Petonic; make Superintendent John Halfhill's and Business Manager Bill Porter's lives so miserable that they would quit; get rid of cafeteria workers and the supervisor; fire Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Ken Millslagle and replace him with Kuhns; get rid of administrator and Southmoreland Primary Center Principal Tim Scott; demote high school Principal Wes Nicholson to elementary school principal; promote John Lee from elementary school principal to high school principal; and promote Josh Pajak (Eckman's grandson) to athletic director when Dennis Zieger retires.

District resident Catherine Fike, who is running for school board, asked those allegedly involved if any of the accusations were true.

Lizza, who is not up for re-election this year, said that a meeting was held at the Sons of Italy to go over election petitions, but that none of the statements in the anonymous letter was made during that meeting.

Alt and Kathy Roberts, who are both up for re-election, said that they were at the meeting to discuss election petitions.

Roberts had a problem, however, with an anonymous letter being read during a public meeting.

"In the past when we got anonymous letters, we did nothing about them, so it's ironic that this anonymous letter was read when it's election time," she said. "Those things might be the truth and they might be a lie, but that letter should never have been read."

Accipiter said the letter was addressed because it was disrupting the day-to-day operation of the district, including negotiations with cafeteria workers, who were mentioned in the letter as possibly being let go at some point.

Halfhill said the letter was personal because it affected him. He was concerned by Roberts' statement that parts of the letter might be true.

Also last month, Alt said he heard rumors district administrators and some board members met and were the ones who challenged his election petition.

Fike clarified that on Thursday, saying she was the one who filed the petition, and other than knowing board member Michael Bentz, had never met or discussed with any board member or administrator the challenging of Alt's petition.

Alt said he never said it occurred, but that it was a rumor.

The accusation that Roberts was recently hired at the Westmoreland County Intermediate Unit because Eckman wrote a recommendation for her also was addressed.

Roberts had a letter read at Thursday's meeting that was written by Jim Sommerville, with the Intermediate Unit, who discussed the hiring process and stated Roberts was one of the top three scorers on the tests administered during the hiring process. All three top scorers were hired.

While Eckman sits on the Intermediate Unit board, he did not vote to hire Roberts because he did not attend that particular meeting.

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