Pennsylvania senator calls for inquiry of education adviser

The chairman of the Senate Education Committee said Thursday that the Commonwealth should take steps to assure taxpayers that Gov. Tom Corbett’s special adviser for higher education is being required to do work that would justify his $139,542 salary.

“I’m just saying it should be looked at,” said Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon County.

His comments came hours after a Harrisburg activist called for additional state inquiries following a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story Sunday regarding former state Education Secretary Ron Tomalis.

“If this were a private corporation and a CEO wants to have a whatever and wants to spend for that position, that’s up to them. That’s their money,” Mr. Folmer said. “This is taxpayers’ money, and we’ve got to make sure we’re spending taxpayers’ money the way it ought to be spent. That’s where my concern lies. If he’s doing his job, OK, that’s wonderful, that’s great, that’s the way it should be. If not, maybe we should be looking at what’s up.”

Activist Gene Stilp on Monday asked the state Ethics Commission to investigate whether Mr. Tomalis is doing his job and on Thursday asked the Bureau of Special Investigations in the Pennsylvania Inspector General’s Office and the state auditor general also to investigate. Mr. Stilp, a Democrat running for state legislator in Dauphin County, sent a letter to Mr. Tomalis asking him to step down until the investigations are completed.

Mr. Tomalis was appointed special adviser in June 2013 after leaving the post of secretary of education but was permitted to keep his cabinet-level salary.

The Post-Gazette reported Sunday that records it obtained from the department under state Right-to-Know Law requests included Mr. Tomalis’ work calendar showing weeks with little or no activity — including 20 weeks that appear to have no work-related appointments — as well as phone logs averaging barely over a phone call a day over 12 months and a total of five emails produced by the former secretary.

As special adviser on higher education, Mr. Tomalis’ duties were “overseeing, implementing and reviewing” the recommendations made by the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Postsecondary Education.

Those recommendations included broadening access to higher education for nontraditional groups, working with colleges to keep tuition costs down, and creating a pot of money to reward the institutions based on performance.

However, records obtained by the Post-Gazette and interviews with key players in higher education across the state, including Mr. Folmer, raised questions about how much time Mr. Tomalis was required by the governor’s office to spend on his duties.

Mr. Tomalis has not commented on the records. But acting state Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq said she required him to report to the department headquarters for work after she became secretary in late August and that Mr. Tomalis has worked 40 hours a week and has been involved in K-12 efforts as well as higher education issues. She credited him with the revival of the governor’s schools and said he worked to create the Ready to Succeed scholarships included in the state budget and said he is a driving force behind a Pennsylvania initiative to recruit students from India.

Bill Schackner;, 412-263-1977,on Twitter@BillschacknerPG.. Mary Niederberger;, 412-263-1590. Karen Langley;, 717-787-2141,onTwitter@Karen_langley.

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