West Mifflin board deadlocked on Donis replacement
The appointment of a new West Mifflin Area school board member could be up to an Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas judge.
The board met Thursday for a special meeting with the hopes of appointing a new member to a vacancy created Oct. 16 due to the death of member John Donis, but the session ended in a tie vote for two applicants.
Former school board members Ronald Rubinsak and Diana Olasz were the two nominated for the opening out of a field of 10 applicants who interviewed for the job Monday.
Rubinsak was supported for the post by board members Nicholas Alexandroff, Phil Shar, vice president Ted Cale and board President Michael Price.
Olasz was voted for by Kathleen Bracco, Richard Fialkovich, Albert Graham and Ned Mervos.
The board has to appoint the new member within 30 days of the vacancy occurring, which in this case is Nov. 30.
There was talk at the meeting of calling another special session to have another vote on the matter but Price said he doesn’t know if it would be worth the cost of advertising for a public meeting.
“I doubt we’re going to do it,” he said.
If the board can’t break the stalemate, district solicitor Patricia McGrail said the matter will have to be decided by an Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas judge. She said applicants for the position can file with the court a petition containing the names of 10 registered voters. The applicants then would have to present their case for wanting to be appointed to the board before a judge. Anyone could apply for the position to be decided by the court, if it comes to that, not just the two candidates nominated by the school board.
McGrail said the court likely would hear the case within two weeks of the petitions being filed but noted there is no time frame for filling the post. “We could have eight for as long as it takes,” she said.
In other business, former school board member Ray Butko spoke during public comment about allegations contained in a report from a private investigation firm hired earlier this year to investigate personnel issues and district operations.
CSI Corporate Security and Investigations of Monaca formerly Gentile-Meinert & Associates issued a report this spring that named a former district superintendent, the late Patrick A. Risha, his son Patrick M. Risha and board member Graham as having benefited personally by taking advantage of district employees, equipment and resources while Risha was employed by the district.
A subsequent report that became public last week included a summary from interviews with employees that implicated Butko and the late Donis as possible beneficiaries of the free computer work. The work for Butko allegedly was performed at his auto body shop “nine or 10 years ago,” according to the report, which is before Risha worked in the district.
“They didn’t come out to my shop,” said Butko, who explained he took his personal computer to a district administration office to have a copy of Adobe software downloaded onto his machine because without it he could not read school board documents. He asked the board where the accusations came from that he’d had two employees come to his shop.
Price said an official at CSI had told him they’d gotten the information from Bracco.
Bracco acknowledged she’d submitted a letter that she said was circulating in the district containing allegations that she and Mervos were “covering up for administrators and board members” who’d benefited from school
services. She said she also turned information over to CSI about items she thought should be investigated. She would not say that she specifically turned over the allegations about Butko.
“I’m not saying what information that I got. All I will say is that I had a list of items that I submitted to be investigated,” she said.
In other matters, resident John Koczka questioned the board on why it canceled a school board meeting last week following death of Risha who died Oct. 23. Koczka, who was strongly critical of Risha and often spoke out against him, said the district should not have canceled the meeting.
Risha resigned from the district a year ago due to health concerns.
Price defended the cancellation, saying it was his decision and he did it because initially there was confusion about the funeral arrangements and because many district officials were likely to want to pay their last respects.
Price reprimanded Koczka, who continued to speak harshly about Risha, asking him what the relevancy of his comments were to the business of the meeting at hand.
Superintendent Janet Sardon interjected, asking Koczka, “Don’t you think enough’s enough?”
Koczka said he didn’t care for Sardon’s comments and she in turn said she would be glad to talk to him in her office about his issues.
“It’s just disgusting,” she said, and then to Koczka, “You’re disgusting.”