Friday, July 11, 2014

OUR OPINION: WILKES-BARRE SCHOOLS Board must cut all family ties

October 19. 2013 2:36AM

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Give credit to Wilkes-Barre Area School Board Vice President Louis Elmy for his persistence — as in, how he persists in blatantly ignoring calls for this embarrassing board to embrace higher standards of conduct.

Elmy’s wife, who works for the school district, recently received a new job title and salary. A majority of the nine-member board voted this month to move Sandy Elmy from teacher’s aide, a part-time post she held for several years, to Kistler Elementary School secretary. Presumably that makes her eligible for health care and other benefits.

Her hubby had publicly supported a failed attempt last year to get Sandy Elmy an upgrade in her capacity as teacher’s aide. Not to be overlooked, board member Robert Corcoran lobbied hard at that August 2012 meeting for his wife to get an upgrade, too. Each man abstained from voting for his own beloved but voted yes for the other man’s wife. Due to the abstentions, those efforts were mired in a 4-4 tie.

Fourteen months later, the votes finally swung in favor of the Elmys.

This situation might seem less despicable if it were an isolated case during another era in an otherwise upstanding school district. But this is 2013 in Wilkes-Barre Area — Luzerne County’s most corruption-tainted district, widely considered to be a place that historically has employed people by following a strategy that sounds as if it was borrowed straight from a cellphone plan: strictly “friends and family.” Bribes also have been used to secure teaching jobs here.

This urban, public school district had no written teacher hiring policy until last year. Its board only drafted a written policy, begrudgingly it seemed, following the high-profile guilty pleas in 2009 and 2010 of a handful of then-current and former board members who had engaged in passing bribes involving would-be teachers or business owners seeking contracts with the district.

No sooner was the new policy in place, however, than the board majority began to soften it.

Today, as has been the case with prior versions of this board, certain members bravely call for progressive changes. But the controlling clique perpetually clings to the past, stonewalling most reforms.

Voters should keep that in mind next month when selecting candidates for open board seats. Quiz candidates concerning their beliefs about serving as a board member of a publicly funded institution: Would they dare run for the office if a relative already worked there? Would they remove themselves from the post, not just abstain from certain sensitive votes, if a relative were to seek employment there?

To be clear, Louis Elmy runs afoul of no law by serving on the board.

And, Sandy Elmy might make a super secretary. Apologists will say she should not be treated any differently — or have perceptions of her performance tainted — because her husband helps to oversee and guide the school district’s operations.

And they’re right. She deserves to be judged entirely based on her merits.

Which means her husband should not be serving on this school board — the very body that most likely will be voting soon on a newly negotiated contract involving school secretaries’ salaries.

He should resign before that vote.

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