Panther Valley School Board for the second time Wednesday deadlocked 4-4 as it tried to elect officers. The failure to reorganize may send the matter to Carbon County Court, a move that could boot one or all board members from office.
Court could be avoided if the board appoints a replacement for school director Tony Pondish, who resigned before the initial Dec. 8 reorganization meeting.
The 20-minute public meeting, punctuated by the occasional angry outburst, ended when school director Anthony DeMarco who participated via telephone because he had to work called for adjournment after the board tied on the election of president and vice president.
"I feel we're getting nowhere," DeMarco said. His motion was backed by school directors David Hiles, Jeff Markovich, Michelle Markovich and Bill Hunsicker. Mickey Angst, Irene Genther and Koreen Nalesnik opposed.
The meeting began with DeMarco nominating Hiles as temporary president to preside over the reorganization. Hunsicker nominated Angst.
The first round of voting saw the predictable 4-4 split, with Angst, Genther, Nalesnik and Hunsicker backing Angst; and Hiles, Jeff Markovich, Michelle Markovich and DeMarco voting for Hiles. By law, a second vote had to be taken. In that round, DeMarco switched sides and voted for Angst, who won the spot.
Angst presided over the votes for president, vice-president and almost secretary. Angst, who is hearing-impaired, was aided by Hunsicker.
The board split along faction lines in the vote for the offices, with Hiles, Jeff Markovich, Michelle Markovich and DeMarco lining up against Angst, Hunsicker, Genther and Nalesnik.
Hiles nominated Jeff Markovich as president, and Genther nominated Nalesnik. The required second vote did not change any of the votes. The same split deadlocked the vote for vice-president, with Hiles nominating DeMarco and Hunsicker nominating Genther.
DeMarco called for adjournment as the board prepared to vote for a secretary. Hiles had nominated Angst, who in the past has complained of inaccurate minutes that were not corrected.
According to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, boards must reorganize during the first week of December. Panther Valley held its first reorganization meeting on Dec. 8. But Pondish had resigned as of that meeting, and the remaining eight members split 4-4 on each office. The board has 30 days to choose a replacement, or the court will step in to do that.
At that meeting, the board elected DeMarco to preside as president over the reorganization meeting. When it tied on the elections, DeMarco stayed on to chair the regular public meeting, an action that Angst, Genther and Nalesnik said was illegal. They left the meeting. Hunsicker had left earlier, during an executive session that followed the reorganization.
The remaining school directors, Hiles, DeMarco and the Markovichs, promptly elected Jeff Markovich as president. However, having less than a quorum, the four could not legally do that, and so Markovich's election was nullified at Wednesday's meeting.
Because of the lack of quorum on Dec. 8, the board has yet to consider the agenda items expected to be discussed then.
The failure to reorganize could land the school board in court.
Section 318 of the state school code states that: "If the board of school directors in any district (1) fail to organize as hereafter provided, or (2) refuse or neglect to perform any duty imposed upon it by the provisions of this act relating to school districts or (3) being a party to a joint board agreement refuse or neglect to perform any duty imposed upon it by the provisions of this act relating to joint boards or by the joint board agreement, any ten resident taxpayers in the district or, in the case of a distressed school district as defined in this act, the special board of control provided for in section 692 of this act, may present their or its petition in writing, verified by the oath or affirmation of at least three such resident taxpayers or, in the case of a distressed school district, by the Superintendent of Public Instruction, to the court of common pleas of the county in which such district or the largest part in area is located, setting forth the facts of such refusal or neglect of duty on the part of such school directors. The court shall grant a rule upon the school directors, returnable in not less than ten or more than twenty days from the date of issue thereof, to show cause why they should not be removed from office."
The board meets next at 7 p.m. Dec. 20. It is unclear when they expect to appoint a member to replace Pondish.
Wednesday's reorganization meeting included a protest by Genther of DeMarco's conference call attendance. However, solicitor Robert T. Yurchak said that the board had some time ago adopted a policy allowing board members to attend via telephone in case of illness or other circumstance.
Genther said she spoke with the head of PSBA's legal department, who told her that conference call attendance was "not something he would promote."
However, DeMarco said he had to work the 1-9 p.m. shift, and that he was using his allotted lunch time to participate in the meeting. He told Genther she was wrong in arguing that the conference call should not be allowed. At one point, Angst admonished DeMarco, saying he was "a little short on manners and respect for your elders."