Lawyer for AASD responds to stories

I am counsel for the Altoona Area School District in connection with an investigation the AASD school board asked my firm to conduct regarding the payment of compensation to certain persons in the AASD.

I write to comment on two recent articles in the Altoona Mirror: “Lawyers: AASD Probe Flawed,” dated June 19 and “Lawyer: Murray’s Raises Within Board Limits,” dated June 18. Before I do, however, I note that any matters in the articles or in Dr. Murray’s counsel’s recent statements that are not addressed here are not conceded or waived because of that silence.

The school district does not waive any and expressly retains all of its rights, claims, defenses and the like.

Your readers should know that the board’s public statement on June 17 was not a concession that the “probe” was “flawed” or that the “investigation included inaccuracies regarding raises that Murray gave himself”; rather, it was only a correction by the board of an erroneous calculation of the percentages of the annual salary increases received by Murray compared to the percentages of the minimum annual salary increases he could have received.

That correction has no bearing at all on the board’s findings issued on June 5 that Murray obtained raises and gave raises without board approval at a public meeting.

The Mirror article implies that Carl Beard or his law firm “corrected” the findings that I read for the board on June 5. That is not accurate. I found the errors in the spreadsheet and that are discussed in the June 17 statement, and I drafted the June 17 statement for the board.

Beard simply read the statement for the Board because neither board President Ryan Beers nor solicitor Dave Andrews could attend the June 17 meeting. (My office is a four-hour drive from Altoona, and no board member requested my presence at the meeting.)

You wrote that Murray’s counsel stated, among other things, that:

“We also showed Mr. Cianci how, by averaging Dr. Murray’s salary increases, Dr. Murray had received less salary than was required by his contract with the Board. But Mr. Cianci’s report completely ignored the critical information that we provided, and instead condemned Dr. Murray for allegedly giving himself excessive pay increases. That is unforgivable, and reveals [Mr. Cianci’s] bias [in the] report.”

This statement merits a few responses. First, the background must be understood. I asked counsel how Murray obtained a 5 percent raise in 2010 and a 2 percent raise in 2012. Counsel’s response, which is contained in the June 5 report and which I will paraphrase here, that in 2010 raises were included in a salary memo that came out of Murray’s office, and, despite that fact that Murray signed the memo, Murray did not pay close attention to the salary increase for himself that was included in the memo.

In my discussions with Murray’s attorney Kyle, he argued that if I lumped together the 2010 5 percent raise, the 2011 voluntary pay freeze, and the 2012 2 percent raise, then I would see that Murray obtained raises that were just slightly higher (not lower, as counsel apparently stated to you) with what Murray was entitled to receive under his contract.

Unless I am mistaken, that is the “critical information” to which counsel refers in his statement. It is far from “critical,” however. Admittedly, it shows an overall picture of compensation, but it has no bearing on the issue under investigation: whether raises were obtained without board approval. It may be desirable to look at many years together to determine whether a raise was actually received over that period, but that is not how this issue is to be analyzed.

Raises are supposed to be approved by the board before they are given, and Murray did not and does not dispute that he obtained certain annual raises that were not determined by the board.

Despite the non-“critical” nature of Bahr’s idea to lump years of salary together, I did not “ignore” it. The concept is considered in the June 5 report and applied in the June 17 report. I should also note that the words “condemnation” and “excessive” are Bahr’s only. Neither of the reports issued this month by the board “condemned” Murray for giving himself “excessive pay raises.”

They were simply findings made by the board based on the evidence available to it that Murray obtained certain raises that were not determined by the board.

Finally, in your article you state that Murray’s raises “were within his contract limits.” But that is not what the board’s findings show. The board found, among other things, that in some years Murray received raises without board approval that exceeded the minimum raises permitted under his contracts. That finding alone compels a conclusion that some of Murray’s raises were not “within his contract limits.”

Separate from that, however, and using Bahr’s salary-lumping concept, the board found that the total raises obtained by Murray over the past 20 years was slightly less than the total minimum raises Murray could have obtained during the same period.

Paul J. Cianci, Levin Legal Group P.C., Huntingdon Valley