WILKES-BARRE — With his wife holding the Bible and Luzerne County Judge William Amesbury administering the oath, the Rev. Shawn Walker became Wilkes-Barre Area School Board’s first minority member at Monday’s monthly meeting, evoking applause and a lot of handshaking.
Walker sat quietly for most of the meeting, saying afterwards that “there was a lot to learn, and I learned a lot.” He generally voted with the board on what were mostly unanimous votes, but broke ranks twice, abstaining from a vote to have the district remain in the Northeast Pennsylvania School District Health Trust, and casting the lone no vote on the hiring of Mary Molly Rosencrans as a cafeteria cook.
Board member Maryanne Toole abstained on that vote and said Rosencrans is a cousin of her late husband. Walker said he voted against the hiring “because she wasn’t the top recommendation.”
Walker said he abstained from the health trust vote because he felt he didn’t know enough about the issue. The trust is a consortium of area districts formed in 1999 to curb health insurance cost, but it has come under increasing attacks in recent years by some members. Nine member districts, including Wilkes-Barre Area, gave a required one-year’s notice last June that they intended to withdraw at the end of this June.
Business Manager Leonard Przywara told the board the trust had contacted him and asked that the board make a final determination on that withdrawal. Board member Christine Katsock questioned if any effort had been made to find an alternative insurer, and Toole, who was board president last June, said she had appointed a committee but apparently nothing had been done.
Most board members agreed they had little choice but to remain in the trust, though Katsock still voted no. The board then immediately voted to send a new letter to the trust saying the district might withdraw at the end of June 2014, with Katsock urging that alternative insurance options be looked into this time. “Otherwise this is an exercise in futility.”
In other business:
* The board voted to ban construction of any more storage sheds at Memorial Stadium, and to require any group to use cooking facilities already at the stadium and not bring in any grills or other items requiring tanked fuel. Board member Lynn Evans has complained repeatedly that fire risks were being created by the storage of propane tanks at the field.
* Acting Superintendent Bernard Prevuznak announced the state Department of Education awarded the district a $177,472 “fresh fruits and vegetables grant” to be used in four elementary schools.
* The board awarded a garbage removal services contract to low bidder J.P. Mascaro & Sons for next year at a total cost of $71,426, approved more than 250 sports equipment purchases totaling $67,813 and gave the annual boiler service contract to Mechanical Service Co. for a low bid rate of $13,355.
And the board approved a legal settlement agreement with an unnamed teacher that terminates the employee as of April 8 while providing severance pay equal to the remainder of her 2012-13 salary, promises a “neutral employment reference” giving only date of hire, salary, position and separation date, and expunging the employee’s personnel record file of disciplinary charges “or the employer’s investigations regarding employee’s alleged misconduct.”