Baldwin-Whitehall residents continue to press for answers about administrative post

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Despite the frigid weather, Baldwin-Whitehall School District residents turned out again en masse Wednesday night to protest the school board’s decision to appoint one of its members to an administrative post and demand an explanation of the board's controversial decision.

A group of nearly 100 residents spoke out for the third month in a row since the board voted to accept the resignation of fellow board member Martin Schmotzer and then, minutes later, voted to give him a $120,000-per-year administrative position in the district. The unexpected hiring occurred without public input or discussion.

Though Mr. Schmotzer, 57, of Whitehall, has since resigned that position, he remains on the board. Many residents who have been attending recent board meetings, however, want him to resign for good.

"He continues to attempt to justify the creation of that position," said resident Tom Barchfeld of Mr. Schmotzer.

At the end of Wednesday’s more than four-hour-long meeting, Mr. Schmotzer lashed out at staff and audience members, asking Superintendent Randal Lutz to provide him with a list of staff and administrators hired without an interview or public posting during the past three years.

Parent Lou Rainaldi recently began calling on school directors to call a special meeting to explain their actions on Nov. 19 -- when they voted for Mr. Schmotzer's position. Board President Larry Pantuso has previously said he does not regret the vote, though he and other members have consistently declined to explain their actions.

Mr. Rainaldi reiterated his request Wednesday night.

"The only way we can move forward is to have a dialogue about it. Each of you needs to explain your votes," he said. "We can't move on without trust."

The only board member to reject Mr. Schmotzer's new position at the November meeting was Tracy Macek, who has stood behind her decision. Two new members, Karen Brown and David Solenday, are also sympathetic with the public's view but they comprise just three votes, while Mr. Schmotzer and his supporters hold the majority of six votes. The new members were sworn into office in December, after the controversy began.

Ms. Brown, Mr. Solenday, and Ms. Macek support a special meeting, but the majority declined to respond to audience comments requesting an explanation. Ms. Brown also previously made an unsuccessful attempt to persuade the majority to reconsider the district's relationship with Solicitor Bruce Dice.

The residents, who formed a group called Baldwin-Whitehall Citizens for School Board Excellence, have asked Mr. Dice for his resignation and posted an online petition with the same goal. They questioned Mr. Dice's legal advice to the board regarding Mr. Schmotzer and his controversial appointment, and Mr. Dice's decision to allow Mr. Schmotzer to be sworn into a new term in December when he'd previously resigned from his seat.

Some residents were also critical of Mr. Dice's fees, but a review of legal expenses provided by the superintendent indicated that Mr. Dice's fee of $110 per hour is as much as 20 percent less than other legal firms that provide services to the district.

For the first time, Wednesday's board meeting was broadcast via a live stream on the district's website, www.bwschools.net.


Janice Crompton: jcrompton@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1159.

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