Steel Valley votes on changes to superintendent's contract

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Steel Valley school board has voted to modify superintendent Ed Wehrer's contract in two ways.

In the first action, during Tuesday's meeting, directors voted 6-2 to give Mr. Wehrer the district's package of health, dental and vision benefits; or if he declined them, to give him a stipend of $4,000 each year toward the cost of health insurance.

When Mr. Wehrer was hired on June 7, 2012, he agreed not to take health insurance benefits from the district unless his insurance benefits through his wife were suspended, and that is stated in his contract.

Director Mike Terrick said he understood the health insurance benefits were going to be offered only if Mr. Wehrer's wife's benefits were in jeopardy, and said taxpayer's money would pay for the health package.

Community activist Donna Dreshman also asked Mr. Wehrer to stand by what he said at the June 7 meeting.

In the vote, Mr. Terrick and Director Donna Kiefer voted against conferring benefits.

In the second action, after lengthy discussion, directors voted to give Mr. Wehrer $6,000 toward the cost of a Stanford University certificate in strategic decision and risk management.

In discussion preceding the vote, Mr. Terrick said he disagreed with the district paying for the certificate. He had investigated the Stanford certificate and said it enhances ability to conduct business in a competitive environment, rather than work in education.

"Whether we like it or not, public education is a business. It's an important a company and industry as there is. Risk management is good business," Mr. Wehrer said.

Mr. Terrick said he disagreed, because school board members' hands are tied by laws created by the state Legislature, and districts cannot function like businesses.

He said he would rather see the money for the course spent on teacher evaluations or curriculum development.

Legislation that allows people with master's degrees, such as Mr. Wehrer, to serve as superintendents was mentioned by one of the school directors.

"It's time maybe school districts are a little more business oriented," Director Sue Ballas said.

"Until we're permitted to have a free hand and run it like a business, I think it's more important [to] concentrate on education," Mr. Terrick said.

"The way I look at it is, [Mr. Wehrer] is an asset," school board president Beth Cannon said.

"I don't think I've seen someone who wants to learn more. I think it's great he's taking initiative."

Mrs. Cannon said Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials will offer a certified school risk managers course in December that is similar to the course Mr. Wehrer is taking online.

Ms. Dreshman questioned the expense of the course. She said former superintendent William Kinavey did not have a provision giving him tuition reimbursement in his contract, which she had obtained through the state's Right to Know law.

District solicitor Donald Fetzko said administrators won the right to be reimbursed to up to $6,000 for course tuition in their most recent round of Act 93 negotiations. He said Mr. Wehrer's contract entitles him to any benefits other administrators have.

Mr. Fetzko said Mr. Wehrer determines whether other administrators can get compensation for their courses, and that the school board determines whether Mr. Wehrer can get compensation for graduate courses he takes.

Director Joe Ducar made the motion for Mr. Wehrer to receive the tuition reimbursement, and Mrs. Ballas seconded.

Mrs. Cannon, Mr. Ducar, Mrs. Ballas and directors Colette Youngblood and Tom Olson voted for the tuition reimbursement, and Mr. Terrick and directors Donald Bajus and Donna Kiefer voted against it.

Director Vince Natale was absent from the meeting following knee surgery.

Early in the meeting, the board held a reception with cake for Mr. Ducar, who was bumped from the spring 2013 primary election for failure to file a statement of financial interest with the county elections division and the school district.

Mr. Wehrer thanked Mr. Ducar for his 16½ years of service on the board, and declared him a "Friend of Steel Valley School District."

Mr. Ducar said he was pleased to have been able to work with his friend, philanthropist William B. Campbell, to build six classrooms at Barrett Elementary School and a gym at Steel Valley Middle School through the former Steel Valley Foundation for Education.

The foundation lost its tax-exempt status May 15, 2010, after 10 years of operation. According to the Internal Revenue Service, the status was revoked because the foundation failed to file an annual 990 form for three consecutive years.

The foundation has spent about $25,000 on lawyers and accountants to take care of that problem so far, he said. Now, he, William Campbell and his son, James Campbell, are concentrating on the work of a new charitable foundation, Mr. Ducar said.

Anne Cloonan, freelance writer:

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