Altoona Area School District — Board members walk out of meeting

Presentation on proper procedures draws more dissent

Three Altoona Area School Board members walked out of a meeting Monday during a Pennsylvania School Boards Association presentation about the proper roles of school board members and how to work as a team.

Ed Kreuz, Ron Johnston and Sharon Bream left the room before Pennsylvania School Boards Association senior director of education and training Brianna Crowley started her presentation.

Although Dave Francis disagreed with having the PSBA presentation, he sat through it.

The presentation was tailored for the Altoona board by the Association at the request of the board majority, who have become weary of the minority’s unrelenting shows of defiance and opposition for the majority’s decision in April 2018 for a high school building project.

When the presentation was finished, the three members returned to the room.

The business of the meeting continued, but with the usual friction where the high school building project was concerned.

When the vote came to approve bills and invoices related to the construction, the four members voted no, as they have on the construction bills each month since the high school building project was approved.

It was the minority’s refusal to move beyond the school building decision and recognize the board’s obligation to fulfill contracts that frustrated board member Kelly Irwin Adams.

To Irwin Adams, the disruption has had clear effects.

Last month, the four board members not only voted against the high school construction bills but also, apparently unknowingly, voted against an invoice for a roof repair at Penn Lincoln Elementary School, Irwin Adams said.

Usually, the minority goes through the public meeting procedures for separating the bills so they can vote against those involving the building project and pass the others. But last month, it appeared the four members forgot to separate Penn Lincoln’s roof needs from the high school project bills.

Francis was surprised and at first did not believe Irwin Adams. But Adams doubled down and showed Francis that the vote is in the minutes from the last meeting.

“The Penn Lincoln roof — $255,000. It was a 5-4 vote. I was shocked then and didn’t say anything,” she said.

“Can we vote to not to pay for something,” she said, looking for school district solicitor Carl Beard to put an end to the minority’s posturing.

Beard said the board would face penalties and legal trouble if the no votes did win out.

Irwin Adams also gave a forceful summary to the board members who walked out during the presentation.

“We are to do certain things collectively,” she said. She read from official Pennsylvania School Board Association guidelines.

“What does it mean when we are told that all board members should support decisions of the board, even when they disagree with them? It doesn’t mean you have to be a cheerleader. But it means once the vote is taken you should accept that the time for debate on the issue is over. All members are expected to work together to find the best way to implement it. It can be damaging to students, the school district and the community if at every step along the way, the focus is diverted from the best way to move forward by continued snipping and rehashing of the original decision,” Irwin Adams said. “We need to move forward collectively.”

On their decision to walk out of that presentation, Bream said the majority should not have approved it last month because its camp includes “three lame duck members who will be replaced in December after the general election.”

Johnston echoed Bream’s statement and said it was a was a waste of money — $200 spent by the district — for the presentation. Johnston is up for re-election and is running in the general election. He is the board’s PSBA chairperson.

Johnston abstained from commenting on the topic of what he sees would happen if he is re-elected and continued to vote against the construction bills along with new board members who may also be willing to vote no.

Kreuz clarified that when the new board is installed, and if a new majority is formed against the building project, they would not and could not act on it.

He said they would have to pay the bills. He would not want the district to get into legal trouble by not paying their bills, he said.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.