Amid crisis, split board opts for status quo
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.