North Allegheny volunteer policy prompts complaints

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Some North Allegheny residents are accusing the school board of playing politics and targeting a board member with adoption of a policy that prohibits school directors from serving in certain volunteer positions within the district.

The policy, which was approved by a 7-0 vote on July 17, bans board members from holding volunteer posts that are supervised by district staff. The unhappy residents complained that the policy eliminates school director Ralph Pagone from serving as head coach of the girls varsity slow-pitch softball team.

As coach, Mr. Pagone is supervised by athletic director Bob Bozzuto, who reports to the school board. Mr. Pagone recently supported keeping Peebles Elementary School open. He had won both party renominations in the May primary.

The original policy was amended to take effect at the end of the board member's current term. Mr. Pagone's term ends in November and he was reappointed July 17 as softball coach.

Board President Maureen Grosheider said an attorney for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association said that board members should not hold volunteer positions that would otherwise be paid. Head coaches of all other sports are paid.

"At some point in time, I think we have to address this issue because it has cropped up over and over again. And we don't want our administrators to be in an untenable positions," she said.

Mrs. Grosheider noted that she resigned from a special education parent support group when she was elected to the board and that Thomas Schwartzmier resigned as a board member and treasurer of the hockey association when he was elected.

"We've never needed a policy before because board members took individual action," she said.

That changed in 2010 when Mr. Pagone, already sitting on the board, brought the slow-pitch softball program to the district and applied to be head coach. He was appointed coach by a split vote in 2010 and 2011 and unanimously in 2012.

"I have made my position on this issue clear in 2010 and in 2011 that I believe that there is a perceived conflict of interest here," said Linda Bishop, who voted against the appointment those two years and was absent for the 2012 meeting.

Mr. Pagone did not attend the July 17 meeting and did not return a phone call seeking his comments. When the policy was introduced in June, he said that the policy "doesn't look like anything but politics."

Several residents supported Mr. Pagone. Lauren Posati, a board member for the slow-pitch softball program, noted that the voters didn't care about Mr. Pagone's dual role when they elected him.

Mrs. Posati also asked if board members would be allowed to volunteer in their child's classroom or with booster organizations.

Kevin Mahler called the policy "a blatantly political attack" and a "de facto plan to make Mr. Pagone quit one job or another."

Amy Lilienthal, whose daughter plays softball, said that the district "benefits from the success of the team."

"The fact is, my daughter and many other girls would not be playing slow-pitch softball at North Allegheny if not for Mr. Pagone and his commitment. And that deserves a little respect," she said.

She added that approving such a policy four months before an election was "not appropriate."

"It appears that you are trying to use this and remove him," she said. "Perception is reality and this is an ugly perception."

education - neigh_north

Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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