With the Wilkes-Barre Area School Board's reorganization meeting scheduled for tomorrow, and the board poised to elect a president and set course for the coming year, it seems appropriate to pause and recount, in some detail, the many ways this board and district – and yes, in at least one case, the voters – destroyed public trust.
Consider it a Top 10 list of Wilkes-Barre Area School Board's most embarrassing moments, though they are presented here strictly by chronology. Readers are welcome to rank them from 10 to 1 a la David Letterman, but without the laughs.
After the FBI requests a list of elementary teachers hired since 2004, Board President James Height and member Lynn Evans tell The Times Leader that, in lieu of a non-existent written hiring policy, the board uses a pick system, with members taking turns picking which candidate gets interviewed.
Board member Brian Dunn is charged with corruption (later pleading guilty to accepting $5,000 from the relative of a teacher candidate). Height calls the news shocking.
Six days after abruptly resigning, Height agrees to plead guilty to charges he accepted money for helping a contractor get district work. In the primary election the next day, more than 600 people vote for Height.
Despite the fact that Dunn has been charged with corruption and has missed at least four months of meetings – giving the board the legal right to vacate his seat and appoint a replacement – the board does nothing. We'd love to do it, Board President Frank Pizzella says, but we don't want to get into a legal battle.
Pizzella is indicted. He pleads not guilty, but in February, 2010, signs a plea agreement to charges he passed a bribe from the relative of a teacher candidate to a sitting board member, an incident that took place before Pizzella was on the board.
Under indictment, Pizzella is re-elected as board president by his fellow board members.
Following criticism of legal costs from board member Christine Katsock and news of a federal investigation of solicitor Anthony Lupas (later charged with running an investment scam unrelated to the school board), a Times Leader review shows bills from Lupas had increased from about $54,000 in 2008 to nearly $330,000 in 2011. Administrators and board members express surprise. Administrators acknowledge there have apparently never been written contracts with Lupas or assistant solicitor Ray Wendolowski.
Prior to the monthly meeting, two secret service agents enter the executive session and serve multiple subpoenas seeking numerous district records, including employment and hiring records related to the son of board member John Quinn, who had worked as a district teacher part-time in the past and had applied for a teaching job recently. The agents sit through the entire meeting.
Board members Louis Elmy and Robert Corcoran admit they want their wives, workers with the district for years, to get promotions, but the effort fails in a 4-4 tie. At the end of the meeting, Corcoran asks the board to reconsider because his wife is married to a disabled veteran and entitled to preference. The board does not second the motion.
Corcoran, Quinn, Elmy, Dino Galella and Phil Latinski – all but Latinski either have family working in the district or someone who applied for a job – abruptly move to amend a proposed hiring policy three years in the making, changing the maximum number of finalists for any position from three to five. The five men then approve the policy, previously stripped of a strong anti-nepotism clause.
The same five also move to hire Bernard Prevuznak, long-time deputy superintendent, as superintendent, abruptly ending a wide search conducted by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association that had netted about 17 candidates. Neither move had been on the written agenda.