Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Good news. The FBI takes on cases of the sort that plagues Hillsborough County's school system.
So tonight after I attend the board meeting, I write a billet doux to the FBI.
This is an adventure in resources of the government to protect its citizens from small-town crooks and pettifoggers.
I wonder why somebody didn't call in the FBI in the Erwin crime spree. ldd
Monday, September 14, 2009
I called Rep. Bill Young's office this morning and asked the staff to find out how the FBI got involved in its school crime in Willkesbarre. If Willkesbarre can have the FBI, it's only fair that Hillsborough County's school system has the FBI too. Stay tuned. I'll think of something. lee
Those who worked with him at Pittston Area say there were no indications of wrongdoing.
click image to enlarge
“Joe and I ran for school board together in 2005. I thought he was a good man with the same ideas about what should happen on the board,” board member Robert Linskey said. “To me, something changed in his way of thinking. … Something made him turn around. I don’t know what the trigger point was. But they say power corrupts.”
Oliveri, of Hughestown, signed a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office last week that calls for him to plead guilty to one count of corrupt receipt of reward for official action.
Prosecutors say Oliveri, who has resigned from the board, accepted a bribe of between $1,000 to $5,000 in January for his influence in the award of a contract in the school district.
U.S. District Judge Thomas I. Vanaskie on Wednesday scheduled a hearing to accept Oliveri’s guilty plea at Aug.
“I feel bad for him and I especially feel bad for his family. But when you break the law, you have to pay,” Linskey said.
Linskey said Oliveri had told him he wanted to fight against nepotism when they were campaigning four years ago.
After relatives of former board members Tony Rostock and August Piazza were hired at the Wilkes-Barre Area Career and Technical Center while the men represented Pittston Area on the center’s Joint Operating Committee, Oliveri told Linskey that he wanted to represent the school district on the committee “to fight nepotism at the vo-tech,” Linskey said.
Oliveri got the post, Linskey said, and then his wife and son were hired at the center, two of his nieces were hired at Pittston Area and his son was appointed an assistant football coach at Pittston Area.
Oliveri’s son was eventually hired by Intellacom – a company that won no-bid work at the center totaling $578,364.
Intellacom did similar no-bid work at Luzerne County Community College, where federal investigators have also taken records, and where former Pittston Area Superintendent Ross Scarantino and Piazza had served on the Board of Trustees. Scarantino has also pleaded guilty to corruption charges.
Intellacom and its owner, Anthony Trombetta, have not been charged with any wrongdoing. Trombetta has repeatedly declined comment through a person at the company office.
Federal investigators have not identified the company that allegedly offered Oliveri the bribe.
Board member Martin Quinn said the charge against Oliveri is “kind of disheartening.”
“He did a good job on the board. I never expected that from him,” Quinn said. He said he never suspected any motions Oliveri made were improper.
“I’m there 20 years. If there was something fishy, I would never have voted for it. The whole thing at the school district is very shocking to me,” Quinn said.
Luzerne County Sheriff Michael Savokinas said the charge against Oliveri “came as a surprise. I knew him, not well, for years as an acquaintance and working with him at the sheriff’s office.”
Oliveri worked as a deputy sheriff in
“Any time you have someone arrested or indicted, it casts a bad light on the county and on the department (even though) he wasn’t charged with anything to do with the sheriff’s office,” Savokinas said.
Ross Latona, who was the highest non-incumbent vote-getter for the Pittston Area School Board in this year’s primary election and whose name has been mentioned as a possible replacement to serve out the remainder of Oliveri’s term, said the whole situation is “just a shame.”
“It’s sad that a person in his position would do what he’s done. … Perhaps worst of all is that he violated the public trust. … It’s almost an embarrassment to be living in Luzerne County and the Pittston Area School District at this point,” Latona said.
He said he believes remaining board members are trying to “right the ship,” and incoming board members will do the same. “I think there are a lot of people willing to work to make this district what it should be,” Latona said.
Marilyn Starna, who was also a top vote-getter in the primary election, said that based on what she’s hearing from people, “there’s definitely a lack of confidence in what’s going on at this point in time. I think right now the public is very skeptical” about anyone on the board.
Starna said she’s happy the school board has taken steps to “put more checks and balances in place” since charges were filed against Scarantino.
Board Solicitor Joe Saporito said he prepared a new purchasing policy that the board enacted at a June meting as a safeguard.
The policy requires approval from new Superintendent George Cosgrove and Business Manager Al Melone for any purchases totaling more than $1,000, and approval from Cosgrove, Melone and two board members appointed annually to oversee purchases for those totaling more than $2,500.
Saporito called the charge against Oliveri “unexpected.”
“I’ve known him as a deputy sheriff over at the courthouse. We were friendly over the years. I was surprised and saddened by it as well,” he said.
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Sunday, September 13, 2009
It's hard to imagine that selling jobs or trading them for subservience and iron-clad loyalty could be the motive for hiring people into the school system who are not qualified but rather who are buddies or sycophants of the board and administration. But this is what happens in Hillsborough County. In Willkesbarre, PA, in the story below, rumor says school people are selling the chance to get an interview to teachers.
Hillsborough county greedy ROSSAC denizens want to continue the power over the control of the money that the head count of students and their teachers makes pour into ROSSAC. So they hire unqualified people who are subservient to them and won't tell what's really going on behind the scenes. There's also the matter of amour propre. The board, supervisor, and administration want to feel themselves above others, and their fancy titles and bloated salaries serve that purpose. But these emperors still have no clothes. Listen to one speak three minutes, and you will see that you deal with a ninny. Being in charge of a schools job racket feeds this breed's desire for feeling important.
In the board's case, members' going along with allowing Elia et al to appoint unqualified, mediocre people to jobs that taxpayers assume go to qualified people represents the price board members are willing to pay to look the other way while unqualified, unsuitable people get jobs that qualified people don't have a prayer to get.
The board members all promised voters on the stump to clean up the schools. They have instead waded into the Augean stables of ROSSAC and become a part of the problem. Board members' pay is the community eclat they get from people who have no clue about their real role in the mess that represents the schools' management under Ms. Elia.
There is always hope that a new board member will come in and turn on the hoses to clean the ROSSAC Augean stables. One sees with delight that homewrecker Falliero has an opponent already signed up. Looky here:
2010 Election Cycle
School Board Member, Dist. 4
|Name:||Stacy R. White|
|Address:||P.O. Box 1056
Valrico, FL 33595-1056
The board has tacitly given Ms. Elia a patronage perquisite in hiring. But that file custom started before she took the superintendent job away from better candidates. I read the resumes for superintendent two years ago. Ms. Elia's was the most deficient.
The hiring of the superintendent is an out-front board job, so its members have to cover their fixing the job by a for-show nation-wide ad as they did in the Elia sham.
The board ran a $35,000 nation-wide CMA ad to hide behind. Who paid the $35,000 for the sham ad? The taxpayers, of course. Then board members made some noise about how hard it was to pick a superintendent when they knew they would hire the inside poorly credentialed, poorly experienced candidate from the get-go, Ms. Elia. Ms. Elia was a known quantity. She would do. She would not interfere with their perquisites and laziness. So the board hiring committee lowered the Ph.D. standard to her Master's and overlooked her on-site job experience, one in which she overbuilt classrooms that she later had to move boundaries when she got the job to fill to the horror of the affected communities and she also claimed never to have been aware of a real-estate scam going on under her nose that a SPT reporter walked in off the street to discover.
Notably, there is only one Ph.D. in the administration at ROSSAC. My hunch is that Ms. Elia's not want people's outranking her in any way explains that strange statistic.
The board was not confident enough and enough interested in education to hire. say, a Columbia Ph.D. with a splendid academic background and rich experience. A qualified superintendent might sneer at board members' ignorance and expect them to stay off planes flying around the country on trips to pick up plastic trophies that the school bureaucrats award each other obsessively to make them feel important. A Columbia Ph.D. might also remark that board members' only activity on the dais is to hem and haw about trifles and go about the county to all the non-stop government-funded banquets to eat and eat and eat.
I have racked my brains to understand anyone's running for the school board. It's the lowest job on the political totem pole in the county. It is so unimportant that it doesn't have term limits. One would think only people interested in education would run for the board because the $42,000 a year job is not lucrative: it's more than beginning teachers make who work for their money, however. I have decided that the people who run for the job are such nonentities that sitting on the board dais and nattering about trifles--that's all they will talk about, never anything substantive--is their idea of being important people. They trust that people in the community know no better than to think board members are leaders in education. Leaders in education, my foot. Two board members don't have even college degrees,. How's that for an interest in education? If you are interested in education, you get one.
But the jobs racket that the board lets Elia run is something that does have buyers desperate for jobs especially in an economic downturn; job selling could be going on in ROSSAC just as it is in Pennsylvania. If you read the court records of the whistleblower Erwin trial, you have to conclude that graft and money under the table at the highest level were what was going on in ROSSAC.
Unwillingness to give up that lucrative underground economy was why Dr. Lennard and his two henchmen, Hamilton and Davis, tried first to run Erwin crazy with orders and counter orders, pointing out his consequent bewildered behavior as proof that he was crazy and not to be listened to when he said there was crime at ROSSAC. Then they tried to fire him and take away his pension; but he had headed them off by at last filing a Whistleblower law suit. The jury didn't believe the lying ROSSAC crooks. They believed Erwin. Juries are good at spotting rascals.
I believe anybody who has a case against the administration and board should waltz the bottom dwellers into court and let them testify before a jury. The jury would spot the liars just as they did in the Erwin case.
If the public learns about the many ways that crooks run the schools, they will rebel in the voting booth. That's why blogging the truth is important. That's the reason I am glad even though the administration and Gonzalez tried to coerce Steve Kemp for a year into giving up his blog, he didn't. They didn't say that is what they wanted, but it is. They fear the truth.
At the end of the year one of its minions let the cat out of the bay by asking Steve not to write about a certain subject on his blog. They read our blogs. Don't ever doubt that.
They can't control what we say. Tra la la and tra la lee.
Professional Standards and stop it from terrorizing teachers with false charges.
FBI asks W-B board to check names of recommended hires
As part of a federal investigation, Wilkes-Barre Area School Board members were asked to review a list of elementary teachers hired since 2004 and put their initials by the ones they recommended for interviews, according to board members Joe Moran and Jim Height.
Wilkes-Barre Area Superintendent Jeff Namey requested the information from board members before Wednesday’s board meeting, the board members said.
Height said the Federal Bureau of Investigation wanted the information but he did not know the specifics.
Namey supplied board members with a list of teachers with check marks by all the ones hired for elementary school positions, the board members said. He asked board members to review the check-marked names and initial the ones they had recommended for interviews, they said.
The focus was on elementary positions because there’s little competition and sometimes a shortage of applicants for more specialized secondary education and special education positions, the board members said.
Namey could not be reached for comment Thursday on several attempts.
The request was made the day after Namey testified before a federal grand jury. The FBI on Wednesday made an unusual public plea for information in its probe of possible payments made by public school teachers in exchange for jobs.
A recommendation to interview an applicant is important in the Wilkes-Barre Area School District because of the way the district’s unwritten hiring process is set up, said School Board member Lynn Evans. Hundreds of applicants apply for elementary teaching positions, so the administration relies primarily on recommendations from board members to decide who is interviewed, Evans said. It’s nicknamed the “pick system,” she said.
Evans said she only recommended a few applicants based on her review of resumes, and she stressed that none was a friend or relative.
“The names I’ve picked have been people I felt would be good for the kids,” Evans said.
Once a recommendation is submitted, it’s up to Namey and others performing interviews to recommend which person should be hired by board vote, Evans said. She said she knows of no situation where a board member put pressure on Namey to choose an applicant who did not perform best in the interviewing process.
While the pick system is ripe for criticism, Evans can’t think of a better plan because the majority of elementary teaching applicants are fresh out of college.
“Yes, they’ve gone to different colleges and did student teaching at different places, but generally they’re on an even keel. To interview 500 people every time there’s an open position is not logical,” Evans said.
The pick system also ensures that all board members have the opportunity to recommend – not just the board majority, she said.
Before the board votes on a hiring, Namey briefs members on who was interviewed and which applicants performed best in the interview, Evans said. “I wish there was an easier way to do it, and if someone has a better idea, I’m sure we’d like to hear it.”
Height said he tries to recommend applicants who have put in time substitute teaching, and he said he has never recommended a relative for an interview. “I get resumes practically every day of the week. Once graduation comes, I’ll get several a day throughout the summer,” Height said.
Board member Frank Pizzella said he bases interview recommendations on his review of resumes, with no preferential treatment for friends or family. Pizzella said he keeps files of all resumes sent to him, and he always sends a letter to applicants acknowledging receipt. “You get tons of them. These kids take the time to finish high school and go to college, and we should at least have the decency to acknowledge their application,” he said.
Moran said he’s recommended one person for an interview because of the applicant’s superior academic performance. He believes the current practice of board recommendations is fair because it doesn’t exclude minority board members. “Everyone gets a chance to recommend someone for an interview,” he said, adding that he has not recommended friends or family members for jobs.
Moran said some applicants send resumes directly to board members. Resumes sent to the school district are forwarded to board members.
Accusations of favoritism and nepotism have long plagued the Wilkes-Barre Area School District and Wilkes-Barre Area Career and Technical Center, which is also a focus of the federal investigation. The FBI sought records on both facilities.
For example, board member Brian Dunn’s wife, Jody, was promoted to the school district’s multi-media/student safety coordinator in 1999. His brother-in-law, Robert Anthony, was promoted to principal in 2001, though Anthony had started working for the district before Dunn’s election to the board. Board member Jim Height’s brother-in-law, Kevin Elmy, was hired in 2003 as superintendent of building, grounds and custodial services at the vocational school. The following year, Height’s wife, DeizaRae, was hired as executive secretary at the vocational school.
Board member James Fisher’s brother, Brian, was hired to a custodial position at the vocational school in 2004. That same year, Fisher’s father-in-law, James Serafini, was appointed coordinator of custodial services in the school district. Dunn and Fisher could not be reached for comment.
Jennifer Learn-Andes, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 831-7333.
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