Despite the threat of a lawsuit, a Steel Valley school board member this week said she has no intention of resigning or withdrawing comments she made about a district vendor earlier this year.
"I think the vendor owes me an apology," custodian-turned-board member Donna Kiefer said about Hruska Plumbing. "I was trying to protect them from future accusations."
The issue stems from what she called a confidential email Ms. Kiefer sent to Dennis Keesecker, director of district facilities, on March 31, detailing her concerns over vendors and contractors, such as Hruska Plumbing, having unfettered and unsupervised access to schools after hours.
In the email, a copy of which was provided to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Ms. Kiefer also questioned whether Hruska employees had keys to schools and advised Mr. Keesecker that he or another district representative should be on site when contractors work in the buildings.
Ms. Kiefer copied her fellow board members in the email, which touched off a flurry of responses, including one from an attorney representing Hruska Plumbing.
Four days after her original email, Ms. Kiefer received a certified letter from lawyer Monte J. Rabner threatening to sue her if she didn't back down.
"...My client would demand that you immediately retract your email of March 30, 2013, and issue an apology to Hruska Plumbing Co. for the unfounded statements and allegations made against them in your email. ... Demand is also made that you immediately tender your resignation as a member of the Board of Directors of the Steel Valley School District as a result of your actions which demonstrates a clear lack of impartiality as a board member."
At a board meeting Tuesday, Ms. Kiefer said her email to the board and Mr. Keesecker should have remained a confidential district communication. She said she was simply trying to remind Mr. Keesecker about a board directive requiring that all visitors sign in and out of school buildings at all times.
Ms. Kiefer said she feels she did the right thing.
"I gave this a lot of thought," she said. "I will not step down. I didn't do anything wrong."
District Solicitor Donald Fetzko said he read the letter from Mr. Rabner and felt the lawsuit threat had no merit, because Ms. Kiefer was acting in her role as a school director. He said Ms. Kiefer has "public official immunity" as well, which would protect her from such lawsuits.
The Homestead-based company is no stranger to the legal system, having filed a lawsuit earlier this year against school board member Michael Terrick in his role as director of the Munhall Borough Sanitary Authority.
That lawsuit, filed in recent months, alleges that by recommending other plumbing firms to residents who need dye tests, Mr. Terrick in essence said that Hruska does not do quality work and that he therefore defamed the Hruska family business.
Company officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
In other business, the school board passed a preliminary budget for the 2013-14 school year, including revenue of $28.97 million and expenditures of $28.79 million.
The budget includes a slight decrease in the property tax millage rate, from 24.1686 mills to 21.3101 mills to adjust for added reassessment revenue. Also included are raises and a new three-year pact for Act 93 administrators, such as principals, who had agreed to a wage freeze for the past two years.
In the first year of the contract, the wage increases range from $1,500 for administrators earning more than $90,000 annually, to $4,500 for those earning less than $80,000 a year. The second and third years call for raises of between 1.5 and 3 percent, depending on satisfactory job reviews.
The budget is available for public review in district offices and a final budget vote is scheduled for 7 p.m. June 25.
Board members voted 8-1 to hire James Marnell as business manager, board secretary and director of operations at a annual salary of $104,000. Ms. Kiefer dissented.
Mr. Marnell had been the acting business manager since earlier this year and his three-year contract calls for annual raises of up to 3 percent, depending on job performance.
In other business, directors:
• Voted to approve purchase and installation of security cameras at Barrett Elementary in the newly renovated section of the school.
• Approved a revised school calendar, designating Friday as a districtwide early dismissal day.
Janice Crompton: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-851-1867.