WILKES-BARRE – Wilkes-Barre Area School Board members Robert Corcoran and Louis Elmy admitted before the vote that they wanted their wives, who have worked in the district for years, to get promotions at Wednesday's meeting. Then, after seeing the votes fail, Corcoran asked the board to reconsider, pointing out she was "the wife of a veteran" and thus merited veteran preference – something included in a new proposed hiring policy drawn up primarily by Corcoran.
Several audience members, who are also part of a recently formed taxpayer watchdog group, reacted out loud. "If at first you don't succeed, vote, vote again," said Frank Sorick, president of the Wilkes-Barre City Taxpayers Association
No one on the board moved to reconsider, leaving the original vote stand as the board adjourned. A second vote could have changed the outcome.
When the motion was made to appoint Sandra Elmy and Mary Claire Corcoran as teacher aids for 32.5 hours a week, Louis Elmy and Robert Corcoran each abstained from voting for their own wives but voted yes for the other man's wife. With four board members – Mary Ann Toole, Lynn Evans, James Susek and Christine Katsock – voting no, that made the final tally 4-4 with one abstention for each wife. Tie votes mean a motion does not pass.
But when Robert Corcoran asked the board to reconsider near the end of the meeting, Evans had left. If everyone had voted the same, the motion would have passed.
At the start of the meeting, Sorick and others had spoken against the expected hiring of the two wives. The positions were on the agenda with blank spaces where the names would go. Frequent critic Bob Kadluboski asked if any member wanted their wives hired, and both Elmy and Corcoran said yes, stressing their wives worked for the district before they got on the board and they were qualified for the upgrade. Corcoran noted he and his wife are separated and going through a divorce.
The board also voted to retain the Scartelli Olszewski law firm to help the district comply with federal subpoenas seeking a wide range of documents and information from the district. The subpoenas were delivered before the start of the regular monthly meeting Aug. 15 by Secret Service agents who then sat through the meeting.
The vote to hire the outside firm drew more disgust from the audience. Legal fees in the district have skyrocketed in recent years, topping $500,000 last year. In an effort to curb that trend, in July the board voted to hire longtime Assistant Solicitor Ray Wendolowski as solicitor for one year at $195,000. The cost covers almost everything Wendolowski does, so there should be no bills for extra work as in past years, and there is no assistant solicitor.
But records related to Wendolowski's work for the district have been subpoenaed, and he previously noted he would be unable to advise the board on matters involving those requests. At Wednesday's special meeting, he said he could not comment on the board's decision to hire another firm and he had nothing to do with its choice. Toole echoed that claim, saying the board wanted an outside attorney to ensure the district fully complies with the subpoenas, which seek a "very large amount" of records.
Business Manager Leonard Przywara said the Scartelli Olszewski firm will be paid $295 an hour for work by a lead attorney and $125 for work by an associate attorney.
And the board voted to have Wendolowski review a contract approved at the Aug. 15 meeting with Step by Step Learning in Whitehall. The $357,721 contract is for teacher training designed to improve literacy learning in early grades. Toole said the decision to review the contract came after "further information emerged" about the contract.
The next Wilkes-Barre Area School Board will be at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 10.