W-B Area Officials Raise Concerns Over Facebook Post

May 1, 2019

A Facebook post that put the faces of the Wilkes-Barre Area School District superintendent and solicitor inside circles is disturbing and inflammatory, school officials allege.

“The pictures give the impression (to many I’ve heard from), of looking through an unmarked rifle scope,” school board member Denise Thomas said in a Facebook post objecting to the photos.

Richard Holodick, a member of the Save Our Schools group that opposes the

$121 million plan to build a consolidated high school in Plains Twp., posted the photos on the SOS Facebook page.

“I just pulled their faces out,” Holodick said. “There was no attempt to show it was a target. ... I feel bad that’s the way they interpreted it.”

Holodick said he used photos of Superintendent Brian Costello and Solicitor Ray Wendolowski because he referenced them in comments. He added officials should be more concerned about building a new high school on an unsafe site than “faces in circles.”

The SOS group opposes the construction of a new consolidated high school on an old mining site in Plains Twp. School officials insist the state Department of Environmental Protection has approved construction measures that make the site completely safe for a new school.

“You can disagree all you want, but that post is unacceptable. It is irresponsible. Period!” board Vice President the Rev. Shawn Walker said.

The district plans to merge its three high schools — GAR, Meyers and Coughlin — into the new high school when the 2021-22 school year begins. SOS wants to keep three high schools.

In the Facebook post with the photos, Holodick criticized Costello and Wendolowski for negotiating a $4.25 million deal to buy the 78-acre site in Plains Twp. from Pagnotti Enterprises.

“Absolutely disgusting!!” board member Mark Atherton said in a comment to Thomas’ post about the photos.

“Despicable and crosses the line on so many levels,” board President Joe Caffrey said in another comment.

Wendolowski said he doesn’t feel personally threatened by the photos.

“I am surprised Dr. Holodick would do that,” Wendolowski said. “It’s unprofessional. It’s in poor taste. It’s not reflective of SOS. I respect their position.”

Costello added, “No, I am not threatened by anything Dr. Holodick does. It is unprofessional and a reflection of perhaps his true character.”

Holodick, a retired school administrator who lives in Wilkes-Barre, called Costello “a novice superintendent.” In 2016, the board promoted Costello from director of curriculum and instruction to superintendent.

In the initial Facebook post, Holodick also urged support for five school board candidates running in the May 21 primary election against four incumbents.

“Are you this desperate for your slated and ENDORSED candidates to win board seats that you’ll post this offensive and very alarming picture?” Thomas asked on her post.

Holodick said SOS has not yet met to officially endorse candidates.

“She is causing problems. That’s Denise Thomas,” Holodick said.

Thomas replied, “This makes their ‘overreaction’ of the new school site and how ‘toxic’ it is look like child’s play.”

The incumbents in the primary election are Walker, Atherton, Dr. James Susek and John Quinn. Five challengers filed to run — Terry Schiowitz, Debbie Orlando Formola, Beth Anne Owens-Harris, Bob Holden and Robin Shudak.

SOS came about after the school board in 2015 proposed merging Meyers and Coughlin with a new facility built on the Coughlin site in downtown. The board abandoned that plan in January 2017 after the city zoning board rejected it.

“I told him that was going to fail. The board should have fired Ray Wendolowski the day after,” Holodick said.

Walker opposed the plan to merge Meyers and Coughlin in a new building on the Coughlin site, but he supports the plan to merge all three high schools in a new building on the Pagnotti site.

“It’s the best place for it to go,” Walker said.

State and district officials have said elevated levels of arsenic in the ground on the site and coal ash placed on the site will not be health risks because of ground capping procedures monitored by the state.

Holodick said the district overpaid for the Pagnotti property because the appraisal determined it was not worth more than $800,000. But the appraisals did not determine the value of mineral rights, Wendolowski said.

The district recently filed an amended deed that shows the district bought the property’s mineral rights, Wendolowski said at Monday’s school board meeting. The first deed filed erroneously said Pagnotti was keeping the mineral rights, Wendolowski explained.

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