AASD contracts fail to pass

Contracts proposed on Monday would have given raises for Altoona Area administrative employees, except those who had received raises investigated by the auditor general and school board.

Board President Ryan Beers said the zero increase for five current employees was a way to help offset the raises they had been given under now-retired Superintendent Dennis Murray.

“The board felt that would be the best way to proceed,” Beers said.

Because a motion needs five votes to pass and Skip Dry was absent, the contracts failed in a 4-to-4 vote.

The reason the contracts did not pass, however, was because of raises included for employees not involved in the recent investigations. Sharon Bream and Cheryl Rupp felt that no administrative employees should be given raises in the coming year because they will add to the state’s pension deficit that is estimated at billions of dollars.

“I am against raises across the board. I don’t know how it is going to affect our budget. Every time we get a raise we are adding to the pension deficit,” Rupp said.

Bream said she opposed the raises because the district passed a 2013-14 budget with a $4.2 million deficit.

“How do you get the money to give raises when you pass a budget with a $4.2 million deficit?”

Ron Johnston and Dick Lockard voted against the contracts for their own reasons.

“I think in some categories we can eliminate positions. That’s one reason,” Lockard said. He also said he felt some employees who were set to receive raises were given performance ratings that were too generous.

Beers, Vice President Maryann Joyce Bistline, Tim Lucas and Elizabeth Chapman voted in favor of the contracts. “We were without one board member tonight; [contracts might] be changed or brought up again in the current form,” Beers said.

The contracts cover staff members who do not have individual contracts and are not covered under teacher contracts. Positions include principals teachers, business managers and assistant superintendents.

At the start of the month, the auditor general issued a report that supported the board’s hired attorney, Paul Cianci of Philadelphia, who concluded that Murray had given raises to employees in violation of school code.

Murray’s attorneys released a statement Monday criticizing a transcript of the board’s attorney’s June 5 verbal investigation report that was printed Monday in school board minutes.

“With today’s public release of the June 5, 2013 AASD Board Meeting Minutes, Dr. Murray is finally getting a chance – along with everybody else – to see the deficiencies and bias in the findings by the board-paid Philadelphia lawyers,” a statement by Reed Smith Lawyer Kyle Bahr stated.

By criticizing what he saw as inconsistencies in Cianci’s report, Bahr also reaffirmed past statements that Murray discussed the raises with the board in executive sessions – private meetings for school boards that are allowed by state law.

“The verbal report said that ‘the evidence does not bear out” that Dr. Murray discussed the salary raises in executive session meetings with the board. Yet later, the verbal report said that [Altoona Area] Solicitor David Andrews remembered multiple occasions when the possibility of an approval of a salary or a pay increase was discussed during an executive session. The verbal report therefore itself “bears out” what Dr. Murray has said all along: that the salaries were discussed in executive session.”

In his report, Cianci stated the evidence he received indicated that board approvals of salary increases were not given during executive sessions.

“In fact, the evidence shows that when the possibility of an approval of a salary or a pay increase came up during executive session, Mr. Andrews, the solicitor, would immediately stop any deliberation and tell the Board members that deliberation and voting had to occur at a public board meeting and not in executive session.”