Baldwin-Whitehall school fight persists

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For the third week in a row, the Baldwin-Whitehall school board Wednesday night was forced to move its meeting to accommodate hundreds of residents who turned out to express their frustration with the board.

Many who attended the meeting -- moved from the school administration building to the Baldwin High School auditorium -- were stewing over the board's refusal to discuss a controversial appointment last month of one of their colleagues to a high-paying administrative position within the district.

"We know what you did," district resident Brian Rampolla told the school board. "It was way over the ethical line. Somehow, some way, we will get to the bottom of what happened."

At issue was the board's decision Nov. 19 to accept the resignation of fellow board member Martin Schmotzer, 57, of Whitehall. Minutes after the resignation, the board created a new, $120,000-a-year administrative position and voted 7-1 to have Mr. Schmotzer fill it with no public input or discussion. Board member Tracy Macek voted against the move.

Mr. Schmotzer has since resigned the position due to the public outrage and after a lawsuit that was spawned by the appointment. Residents attended board meetings in droves earlier this month, shouting their displeasure. Some were escorted from one board meeting by Whitehall police.

On the same day that Mr. Schmotzer resigned the new job, Dec. 4, he was sworn into a new, four-year term on the board, further infuriating residents who have taken to the Internet with online petitions and spent their weekends meeting in local coffee shops to strategize how best to oust Mr. Schmotzer and his allies from the board.

"We have busy lives, but we have to babysit the board to make sure they're doing what they said they would do," said resident Kim Stitt of Baldwin Borough. "It's very hard. We have children and grandchildren."

Resident Lou Rainaldi previously submitted a petition signed by more than 1,300 residents challenging Mr. Schmotzer's appointment and his board seat, and more recently began circulating a new petition calling for the ouster of Mr. Schmotzer and district solicitor Bruce Dice.

Residents said they felt Mr. Dice -- who did not attend Wednesday's meeting -- allowed the board to appoint Mr. Schmotzer to the new job without public deliberation.

Mr. Rampolla said Mr. Dice was an "integral player in this whole debacle."

Members have not said whether they discussed the appointment in executive session, but Superintendent Randal Lutz -- who participates in executive sessions -- said he was unaware of the new job before the board voted to create it Nov. 19.

There also were no announcements that an executive session was held during the Nov. 19 meeting. Such announcements are required by law.

"We're totally disjointed. What's missing here is accountability. What's missing here is an apology," said resident Jerry Pantone. "Can anybody here explain what happened that night? Without those answers, we're not going to be able to move forward in this community. You have lost the trust of everybody in this room."

Mr. Pantone's comments were interrupted by Mr. Schmotzer, who could be heard muttering throughout the public comment segment. Mr. Schmotzer then got into a screaming match with several members of the audience over the results of the November election.

Residents said they're not satisfied to wait two years to vote out Mr. Schmotzer and his supporters. They want to find a way to impeach or recall members who had created the new position and appointed Mr. Schmotzer to it.

Some residents said they were heartened, however, when eight of the nine board members voted to name high school assistant principal Janeen Peretin as director of information and instructional technology; Mr. Schmotzer objected and urged members to reject her appointment to the $90,696 position because he said Ms. Peretin was too valuable at the high school.

Janice Crompton: or 412-263-1159.

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