Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pottsville Area Responds to Right to Know Requests; Raises Questions About Hiring Practices

Former Pottsville Area School Board member Scott R. Thomas says the school board may have been ‘misled’ by administration when they voted to hire their Transportation Manager. On Thursday, the Pottsville Area School District responded to Thomas’ Right to Know request.

The following is what was requested and their response:
  • Thomas had asked for when the Board of Education was notified of the "Personnel Committee" recommendation.  Who made the Board of Education aware of the recommendation.  RESPONSE:  No records exist
  • Request for attendance and minutes of the executive session of board members which the Transportation Supervisor/Dispatcher position was discussed.  RESPONSE:  There were no minutes of executive session meetings where attendance would have been recorded.
  • Emails that were sent by the Superintendent and Business Manager regarding the position.  RESPONSE:  One email was provided from Steve Curran, Business Manager, to John Boran, President of the School District stating
    • It is our recommendation to approve Deniece Krater as the transportation manager as well as have Kim Blum (one of our drivers) be part time / assistant manager (rew hours per day as per Kerry) for the position.  This will help for the times during the day Deniece would be out and/or the other days for sick, vacation, etc.

      Since Debbie was at 33k, we had no problem recommending $33,000 for this job since the overtime would be eliminated.  Those extra funds could be used to help offset the costs for Kim as part time.
Per the Republican Herald

"Kerry Ansbach, the district’s full-time director of facilities and transportation, said Monday that on Sept. 15, he recommended Kim Blum, who had worked part-time for the district as a bus driver for 13 years. “I was there at the interviews. The person I’d put there in that position is Kim. She was always part-time, working six hours or six and a half hours a day as a bus driver or if I needed her to help Debbie out or whatever,” Ansbach said, referring to the previous transportation supervisor, Deb Doran."

Following their response, Thomas released the following statement:

As you know, recently I was asked by citizens of Pottsville to investigate the hiring practices of the Pottsville Area School District as a result of the wife of a school board member being hired over the experienced district employee who was serving as the Transportation Manager. To my dismay, my initial investigation did turn up questionable practices, and therefore I sought additional information via the PA Right to Know law.

Recently, Stephen Curran, Business Manager from the Pottsville School District, responded to my Right to Know request. As expected, much of his response indicates that public records that should have been available did not occur in this hiring decision.

One item that was given in response to my request was Board policy #504 which states “No person shall be employed who is related to any member of the Board, as defined in statute, unless such person receives the affirmative vote of a majority of all members of the Board other than the member related to the applicant, who shall not vote”. State Ethics Laws prohibit a public official from voting for a family member already. Therefore, I believe the policy statement is clearly meant to discourage Board members from having undue influence in the hiring decisions of the district as it relates to family members. Yet, this policy objective seems to have been dismissed and discarded by the Administration and the Board.

So, “where do we go from here?” you may ask. It is my belief that this Administration has been a willing participant to sidestepping state Ethics laws and Board policies. I call upon the Superintendent, Dr. Jeffrey Zwiebel, to make himself available for questioning in regard to the hiring practices of the Board. As revealed in an email that I received via my Right to Know request, Dr. Zwiebel was the ranking official in the interview process for this position, and the ranking official involved in making the recommendation to hire. Specifically, I would like to know if Dr. Zwiebel had any communications or conversations with Scott Krater where the potential employment of his wife took place? If so, this placed Dr. Zwiebel in a difficult position, and he should have handled the interference in an appropriate manner. While I’m not convinced there is impropriety, there is, certainly, the appearance of impropriety.

The selection of the successful candidate is simply not logical. She has no experience in public transportation or the school district’s transportation program. She lacks a CDL. She is not a certified bus driver, let alone a trainer. Yet, she was selected as the “best candidate”, and was recommended at a salary that was not “starting salary” but rather the existing salary of a tenured district employee in the job. This hire quite simply looks, smells, and appears wrong on so many different levels.

Furthermore, in order to limit the outcry that would be expected with such a blatant disregard for sound hiring practices, the recommendation was made to create a part-time Assistant Manager position to “help for the times during the day Deniece would be out and/or the other days for sick, vacation, etc.” My question would be if the experienced and qualified candidate had actually been hired, would this position even be necessary? I certainly do not think so.

I believe that a majority of the School Board was misled on this matter, and simply followed the recommendation made by the Administration. The Board likely did not know the behind the scenes events that took place which resulted in the recommendation it received and acted upon. Sadly, it is my opinion that the Board was made to cast blind votes for an ill-prepared candidate and that the Superintendent should have handled this situation in a much for professional manner.

As I see it, the Board now has an even more challenging decision to make. Does it rescind its’ previous action and correct the improper hire that was made? And/or does it hire outside counsel to investigate its’ hiring practices?

Furthermore, I am calling on the Pottsville Area School Board to begin utilizing their Personnel Committee. This committee is in the school district code for a reason, and I believe that one of the duties of this committee is to deal with hiring practices.

I encourage other concerned citizens to join me at the October 8th work session meeting . As Margaret Mead so famously said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

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