A social media discussion accusing the superintendent of preventing a board member inside the junior high school spilled over into the Ambridge Area school board meeting Wednesday night.
School Board President Mary Jo Kehoe said, however, that Zurchin never banned Kowal or any board member from entering a school, and questioned his motives for suggesting that.
“Why would anyone say they were banned from a building? What’s the motivation to portray to the public that you’ve been denied access to the building when nothing could be further from the truth,” she said. “I think we all know the answers to that. It is to discredit Dr. Zurchin and distract the school board from its work.”
Parents have been vocal about a controversial proposal to close and sell the junior high school building and transition students to the junior high.
Zurchin gave the option in a February presentation regarding the district’s future, and a need for costly renovations at the school building that she estimated to be at least $5 million.
Board members and administrators say that closing the junior high isn't a done deal.
“As I continue to say, this is the beginning of a conversation about academic success and academic stability,” Zurchin said Wednesday night.
Kehoe said she found it “unacceptable and outrageous" that 84 comments were posted on a web site stating Kowal was denied access to the building because of the superintendent.
Kowal, who is outspoken against closing the school, said the reason he went to the junior high was because he received an email from another board member regarding sewer and electrical problems at the school.
“I wanted to go back and look at those two items to make sure we didn’t have the type of problem that would cost us more money,” said Kowal, who called it his fiduciary responsibility to the district and the community.
Kowal said he parked in the back of the school where the parking lot is located, and buzzed in that way. Upon arrival, he said he was told to go in the main office, where the principal informed him that he had to call the superintendent.
“I don’t want to get into a ‘he said, she said’ type of thing. My job I think is to tell the community what’s going on and what problems we do have. If that’s a problem with the board and with the community, then let me know,” he said.
Rules for visitors
Kehoe said the protocol for visitors is to sign in at the front door, not to come in through the back door.
“Board members, like any other visitor, are to report to the office and sign in... We do not allow people to come in and roam the halls,” Kehoe said.
Kehoe also brought Friday’s visitor sign-in sheet from the junior high, that she said showed that Kowal signed in at 11:05 a.m. and was met by acting principal Anthony Amadio. She said Amadio asked the maintenance man to escort Kowal to the boiler room, where he took measurements of the sewer line then signed out at 11:16 a.m. and left the building.
Reading a board policy on membership, Zurchin said each new board member is encouraged to understand the functions of the board, and require knowledge of matters related to the operation of the schools, board procedures and policies.
She thanked board members Kelly Smith and Rob Keber for recently completing their new board member training before recommending that Kowal also complete the training sponsored by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.
“This will help you understand your roles and responsibilities as a board member to better serve our schools, our students, our communities.”
A board retreat
Kowal said he has work obligations and is not a new board member, but rather is serving his fifth year and his second term.
"I believe in rules, as long as the rules are for everybody," he said.
Despite differences of opinion, Zurchin said it is essential that the nine board members work together in a respectful manner, and form an effective team of 10 with the superintendent.
She requested that the board consider scheduling some time, possibly a retreat, to address codes of conduct and other board policies, and decide as a team if additional items should be added.
“And we must all be willing to abide by these standards,” she said.
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