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Jim Thorpe school board proposes tighter rules in hiring relatives

I commend the Jim Thorpe Area School Board for moving forward on a stronger nepotism policy.

Nepotism is the practice by those in power or influence in favoring relatives or friends by giving them jobs or other considerations.

With just one member in opposition, the board approved on first reading the policy that would require a two-thirds (six of the nine members) approval of the board before a relative of a board member is hired.

As far as I am concerned, this is a start, but, quite frankly, I don’t believe any immediate relative of a board member should be hired under any circumstances, not just in Jim Thorpe, but in any school district, municipality, county office, etc.

It’s bad policy, and it gives the impression that if the relative gets the job, other candidates lost it because they didn’t have connections. In this kind of situation, perception becomes reality, and it has a corrosive effect on trust and fair play.

The Jim Thorpe board approved the policy on first reading. It will come up for final approval next month. If passed, the proposal will not affect employees who are already on the payroll.

One board member, Cindy Lesisko Henning, said she has gotten complaints from residents about “too much nepotism” in the district and that they have urged her to be a voice to help terminate the practice.

Another board member, Gerald Strubinger, voted against the proposal, saying that many outstanding employees in this category would have been deprived of their jobs. He doesn’t see relation hires as a problem, and he makes a good point that in smaller communities there is a likelihood of interrelationships.

My response: Find a different school district in which to get a job.

Under current school board policy and state law, a board member must abstain if a proposed employee is a relative, and just a majority vote is required to make an appointment upon the recommendation of the superintendent.

That doesn’t cut it, because the abstaining board member’s colleagues may be unwilling to cast a negative vote for fear that it would bring either verbal reaction or a down the road tit-for-tat.

These relatives are delineated by the state and local policy as immediate family members, such as parents, children and spouses, as well as grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, first cousins and in-laws.

The board’s stated goal in pursuing this more stringent policy, articulated by board members Henning and Scott Pompa, is to hire the most qualified candidates irrespective of their relationship to board members.

Pompa said that before he was elected in 2019, all except two of the board members had a relative employed by the district.

Every public official should be concerned with the perception of a conflict of interest. That seems pretty straightforward, but where things start to get murky is when officials might show preferential treatment toward a relative, friend, even a romantic interest. Doing so is a prescription for trouble.

I am a big fan of the policy enforced at the Mount Lebanon School District in Allegheny County, which says, “No relative of a board member, the superintendent, or an associate superintendent shall be appointed, hired or advanced to any regular employment, professional or otherwise, within the district.” No exceptions.

We have a right to be assured that our elected officials and public employees will act in our best interest and hold themselves to the highest ethical standards.

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com