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At Least One OF Director Accused Of Harassment

December 6, 2018

OLD FORGE — At least one member of the Old Forge School Board is accused of harassing a district employee, school board directors revealed Wednesday while fighting over hiring an investigator to look into the claims. “It isn’t in the best interest of both parties in this particular case for the board to even be involved,” said Director Julie Grimes. “There is a huge conflict of interest … We need to take the board out of the equation.” Wednesday’s meeting was sparsely attended by the public and contentious until the very end, when directors decided on their next board president. Frank Scavo won the seat with a 5-4 vote. Jenna Jones Shotwell, who was also nominated for president, was appointed vice president. They will serve for the next year. Scavo replaces Joan Wilk; Shotwell replaces Patrick Aulisio. Before the board reorganized, they eventually voted to leave the hiring of an independent counsel to investigate the harassment claims to solicitor Joseph Mariotti, Superintendent John Rushefski and Business Manager Brian Rinaldi. Mariotti has a conflict of interest and recused himself from performing the investigation. Rushefski received a written harassment complaint in mid-October. Neither the employee nor the board member have been identified. A motion to hire attorney Christopher Lantz of Cox, Stokes & Lantz P.C., based in Wellsboro, was tabled at last month’s meeting. Votes to hire either Lantz or Joseph Cosgrove, a retired judge of the Commonwealth Court and the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas, failed Wednesday. Alisha Hudak and other directors had issues with Lantz’s $185-an-hour fee and his required mileage reimbursement. Mariotti recommended the board hire Cosgrove or William Acquilino, an attorney and University of Scranton professor. The decision should not take very long, as he, Mariotti and Rinaldi want to move the process forward quickly, said Rushefski. The board also argued over minutes from November’s meeting and whether or not they should read that Thomas “walked out of the meeting” during a vote or if he was “absent” for the vote. Shotwell said secretary Megan McCabe’s minutes, that read Thomas “walked out,” were subjective. Thomas complained the minutes haven’t been right since April. Thomas was voted out of the secretary position in June. “Left the room for the vote is not subjective. It’s exactly what happened,” McCabe replied. “No, that’s your opinion. The solicitor made a ruling that night,” Thomas said, adding Mariotti directed the secretary to record Thomas as absent for the vote. “Someone said ‘Where is Mr. Thomas’ and I said he was absent,” said Mariotti. The directors also argued over whether seventh grade girls basketball coach, Tom Gatto, a veteran district coach who returned after five years, should get 100 percent of the coaching salary or the standard 70 percent for coaches who are not district employees. Hudak argued that Gatto is a former district employee who helped build the basketball program while Thomas added he was is a former championship winning varsity coach for the district. Grimes did not want to set a precedent for other non-district employed coaches to receive similar compensation. Directors eventually voted 5-4 to pay Gatto at 70 percent — a difference of around $400, said Rinaldi. Contact the writer: kbolus@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9100 x5114; @kbolusTT on Twitter

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