Sunday, July 13, 2014

Scarantino calling school districts

February 16. 2013 5:32PM

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Former Pittston Area Superintendent and convicted felon Ross Scarantino has been calling area school districts and pitching a curriculum program, apparently for Step by Step Learning, a private, Whitehall-based company that specializes in literacy programs.

Superintendents in several districts confirmed Scarantino has called on behalf of the company, though it was not clear if he was an employee or consultant. Wilkes-Barre Area Superintendent Jeff Namey said Scarantino had contacted district administrators â??a few timesâ? on behalf of Step by Step, a company the district does contract with.

Hazleton Area School District also has contracted with Step by Step for several years, but Superintendent Francis Antonelli and Assistant Superintendent Donald Bayzick both said they had not been contacted by Scarantino and had no knowledge of anyone in the district being contacted by him.

Scarantino has contacted Wyoming Valley West and Greater Nanticoke Area, but Greater Nanticoke opted for a program provided by the Luzerne Intermediate Unit based in Kingston. Pittston Area School Board President Anthony Guariglia said he has occasionally run into Scarantino in Pittston and that he understood the former superintendent was doing some sort of work with Step by Step, but that Scarantino had never contacted him as a representative of the company.

Scarantino pleaded guilty in May, 2009, to accepting money in exchange for helping a contractor obtain work with the school district. He was sentenced in October of that year to 13 months in prison, and was released to home confinement in October, 2010, for the remainder of his term.

The downfall was thorough. Scarantino had worked for nearly 42 years in education and was poised get an annual pension worth about $115,415, but two months after pleading guilty, a certified letter was sent to the district by the Pennsylvania Public School Employee Retirement System saying the pension would be denied because the plea meant he had violated the Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act.

As of Friday, The Times Leader had not received a reply to a right to know request asking if that ruling still stood

Scarantino was also poised to reap a generous benefits package thanks to his district contract, potentially collecting $425,000 for life insurance coverage for 13 years, 70 percent of his last yearâ??s salary over a period of five years, family health insurance coverage for a decade, payment for 30 unused vacation days and $100 a day for 447 unused sick days. To avoid those payouts, the board initially refused to accept his letter of resignation, then worked out a termination deal.

Under the deal, Scarantino acknowledged he was fired for cause. The board in turn agreed to pay for the 30 vacation days and 125 of the sick days, but did not pay for insurance, the 70 percent of final yearâ??s salary, or 332 sick days, saving the district $310,296.

While in prison, Scarantino also surrendered his various state education certifications qualifying him to work in school administration, as an elementary school principal and as a superintendent. By voluntarily turning the certifications in, Scarantino avoided state disciplinary action in the wake of his plea and sentencing.

Contracting with outside companies for various services, including curriculum, is common in area school districts. When Wilkes-Barre Area School Board approved a contract with Step by Step worth $357,721 at Wednesdayâ??s meeting, they also agreed to contracts for various services from Wyoming Valley Alcohol and Drug Services, Childrenâ??s Service Center of Wyoming Valley, Inc., The Graham Academy in Luzerne, and Behavioral Health Associates in Lehighton.

Mark Guydish can be reached at 829-7161

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