Amid cri­sis, split board opts for sta­tus quo

The Times-Tribune - - OP-ED - BY ROD­ER­ICK RAN­DOM BORYS KRAWCZENIUK, The Times-tri­bune’s pol­i­tics re­porter, writes Ran­dom Notes.

Per­haps more than any pre­vi­ous vote for a Scran­ton School Board pres­i­dent, the one Mon­day that re-elected

Bar­bara Dixon demon­strated a dis­tinct divi­sion among board mem­bers.

Un­doubt­edly, the five­mem­ber ma­jor­ity that re­elected Dixon and the fourmem­ber mi­nor­ity that nom­i­nated each of its mem­bers — and watched Katie

Gil­martin’s nom­i­na­tion get de­feated — want the dis­trict on sound fi­nan­cial foot­ing. Who doesn’t? Ma­jor­ity mem­ber Paul

Duffy, in par­tic­u­lar, has worked hard to find more state fund­ing for the fi­nan­cially mis­man­aged dis­trict and was the first board mem­ber who real­ized the se­ri­ous­ness of the dis­trict’s plight.

For the record, be­fore we get too deep into this, the ma­jor­ity mem­bers who voted for Dixon are Dixon, Duffy,

Robert Casey, Bob Lesh and Greg Popil. The mi­nor­ity that backed Gil­martin was Gil­martin, Mark Mcandrew, Tom Schus­ter and Paige Geb­hardt Cognetti.

The nom­i­na­tions for pres­i­dent hap­pened in this or­der: Gil­martin, Dixon, Mcandrew, Schus­ter and Cognetti.

The ma­jor­ity voted against Gil­martin, the mi­nor­ity voted for her so she lost. Dixon’s nom­i­na­tion was up next. Once the ma­jor­ity voted for her, that ended it. The board did not vote on the oth­ers.

Cognetti said the ma­jor­ity mem­bers had a chance to show they re­ally want change by elect­ing Gil­martin, who has worked hard — and mostly be­hind the scenes dur­ing the last year — to up­date dis­trict poli­cies and pro­ce­dures.

“She em­bod­ies the type of col­le­gial­ity, at­ten­tion to poli­cies and pro­ce­dures, de­tails and re­form I think the school dis­trict needs,” Cognetti said Fri­day. “Clearly, the ma­jor­ity of the board wants to con­tinue busi­ness as usual.”

She pointed to a de­sire by Dixon and Casey to hire Joyce, Car­mody & Mo­ran as the dis­trict’s la­bor lawyers. One of the firm’s partners, at­tor­ney Larry Mo­ran Jr., or­ga­nized a non­profit trust, True Solutions Pro­ject, that gave $3,000 to Dixon’s elec­tion cam­paign in May 2017. Mo­ran and his law firm were True Solutions’ trustees. True Solutions also gave $6,200 to an­other po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee with ties to Mo­ran, PA/ FWD PAC, days be­fore PA/ FWD gave Casey $3,000 in May 2017 as he sought re-elec­tion. Casey re­turned the do­na­tion af­ter a news­pa­per story pub­li­cized it.

Duffy called Cognetti’s view that the ma­jor­ity wants busi­ness as usual “dis­ap­point­ing be­cause I have a child in the dis­trict.”

“I’m the only board mem­ber to have a child in the dis­trict,” he said.

He voted for Dixon be­cause of her 30-plus years of ex­pe­ri­ence as a teacher and school prin­ci­pal, ex­pe­ri­ence that has proved “very help­ful” again and again he said.

“I don’t want any divi­sion on votes to con­tinue and want all of us to work to­gether as a team,” he said.

Which is why Mcandrew and Schus­ter said they voted for Gil­martin.

“What’s al­ways touted is uni­fy­ing the board,” Mcandrew said. “Katie Gil­martin is the best to unify the board . ... I just think we’ve have a bet­ter chance of get­ting to­gether with her as pres­i­dent.”

Schus­ter said he thinks Gil­martin would com­mu­ni­cate bet­ter with other board mem­bers and take the board in “a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion.”

Casey said he voted for Dixon be­cause she asked him and no one else did.

“Barb, in my mind, was the only per­son run­ning,” he said.

Popil said ba­si­cally the same thing. Dixon called him first. By the time Mcandrew called him and asked who he planned to sup­port, Popil said, he was com­mit­ted to Dixon. No one else called him. Les­son for mi­nor­ity mem­bers: call ev­ery­body whose vote you seek.

More than any other, Popil’s vote drew at­ten­tion. Less than two weeks ear­lier, as state at­tor­ney gen­eral’s agents raided the school dis­trict build­ing, Popil vis­ited there and had this

to say about the raid.

“It’s hu­mil­i­at­ing, it’s em­bar­rass­ing, and it’s about time,” he said, sound­ing like a re­former.

“I’m ex­tremely in­ter­ested in re­form,” Popil said Fri­day. “The way the dis­trict con­ducts it­self fi­nan­cially, that’s the rea­son I’m here.”

Popil, who once au­dited school dis­tricts’ fi­nances for the state au­di­tor gen­eral’s of­fice, sees no way out of the dis­trict’s fi­nan­cial mess other than more staff lay­offs.

“I don’t en­joy see­ing peo­ple los­ing their jobs,” he said. “They didn’t do any­thing wrong. I know we have too many peo­ple. We can’t tax our way out of it or bor­row our way out of it.”


Last week, in a col­umn about how no women Democrats have been elected Lack­awanna County com­mis­sioner and no woman has won elec­tion as a state rep­re­sen­ta­tive since Rep. Marion Mun­ley in 1962, we pointed out vot­ers in sur­round­ing coun­ties since then had elected Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic women to the state House and Se­nate, in­clud­ing state Karen Boback, a Har­veys Lake res­i­dent.

We in­ad­ver­tently omit­ted that vot­ers in Lack­awanna County helped elect Boback to the 117th House Dis­trict seat in 2014, 2016 and 2018. Since Jan­uary 2015, the 117th has in­cluded Ben­ton, La Plume and West Abing­ton town­ships and Dal­ton, which con­tain about 7 per­cent of the dis­trict’s vot­ers, ac­cord­ing to state records.

The 117th didn’t in­clude any of Lack­awanna County when Boback first won in 2006, which we should have noted.

“I don’t want any divi­sion on votes to con­tinue and want all of us to work to­gether as a team.” Paul Duffy Scran­ton School di­rec­tor, on his sup­port for board Pres­i­dent Bar­bara Dixon

“Clearly, the ma­jor­ity of the board wants to con­tinue busi­ness as usual.” Paige Geb­hardt Cognetti School Di­rec­tor, on her sup­port for Di­rec­tor Katie Gil­martin.

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