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Contradictory perspectives voiced at Westmoreland School Board meeting

Scott Duprey, retired Westmoreland school division teacher, addressed the county’s school board members during the July 18 meeting’s initial public comment segment. Butch Foutz of Ebb Tide Beach, retired union negotiator, delivered contrasting remarks during the session’s final public comment segment.

Duprey had learned in recent months of past School Division Superintendent Elaine Fogliani’s trips to South Africa and India. On Monday he sought answers. Had local taxpayers subsidized the trips? How could such excursions

benefit Westmoreland County children?

Prior to this Monday’s meeting, Duprey obtained clarification from at-large school board member Rosemary Mahan, whose email response to the retired division teacher’s query was later made available to this reporter.

Addressing the trip to India, Mahan advised that “neither the school system nor the Westmoreland Education Foundation contributed any money at all toward this trip. Fogliani was selected along with a few other Superintendents throughout the nation and invited by the Secretary of Education to participate in this educational tour.

“This trip,” wrote Mahan, “was subsidized by the federal government and any other fees and expenses were paid totally by Fogliani through her own funds or from private fundraising sources. The only way Westmoreland School Board members were involved was we approved for her to go since it was during the school year.”

Mahan’s written statement next addressed Elaine Fogliani’s South Africa excursion.

“This was a similar type of educational tour, except it was not through the federal government,” the county school’s at-large member advised.

“On December 21, 2009 the Westmoreland School Board agreed to pay any difference that she was not able to raise the private funds for as we felt we would benefit from what she learned.

“Dr. Fogliani received $1,650 donations from businesses, which were written to the Education Foundation and specifically earmarked for her trip. These funds were funneled through the Education Foundation fund to give the businesses the benefit of a tax deduction - however, no other dollars from the Education Foundation funds were used to support her trip.

“The School System paid a balance of $5,585 for the trip. These funds were paid for out of elementary and secondary staff development line items. Dr. Fogliani was responsible for all her own personal expenses during this trip.”

It was clear on Monday that the county school division’s $5,585 contribution bothered Scott Duprey. He recited a series of programs the division had to abandon in recent years due to diminishing revenues. Duprey expressed amazement that funding designated for teacher re-certification efforts had been diverted to subsidize the former superintendent’s trip to Africa.

“I’m shocked,” the retired Westmoreland County educator stated. “You’re out of touch with where we are economically,” he told the members of the Board.

“If the funds for the trip to Africa were channeled through the Education Foundation, there’s an appearance that the money was laundered so the donors would get a tax benefit. My wife and I wrote checks to the Foundation that we thought were going for education purposes!” said Duprey.

“You’ve had seven minutes now,” said School Board Chairman Daniel Wallace. “A lot of what you’re saying isn’t relevant. If you have a problem with how the funds were handled, you should talk to the Foundation. We don’t control those funds.”

Duprey wasn’t finished and delivered additional remarks about the school division’s historic capital improvements program. Utilizing an institutional memory that stretches to 1983, he faulted the division’s recent leadership for stalled improvements and expressed hope that Superintendent Rebecca Lowry will demonstrate a different kind of leadership. Lowry began her duties in Westmoreland County on July 1.

Duprey described Fogliani’s five-year relationship with Westmoreland’s school board as “an elitist love fest.” He warned of problems down the road should the new division superintendent be perceived as an elitist, too.

“There will always be some who say perception is reality,” he warned. “The new superintendent occupies Dr. Fogliani’s house and she will run into the same problems as the former superintendent if those kinds of perceptions are permitted to take root.”

“The people made it clear,” Duprey continued. “They asked this board to locate someone to fill this position who is willing to stay with us and play with us and not go home on weekends.”

Foutz had a different take and characterized County Administrator Norm Risavi’s relationship with the Board of Supervisors as “a love fest that’s been going on for a long, long time.”

Foutz told the school board and Lowry that some of the Westmoreland Supervisors told him “they considered Dr. Fogliani a con artist.”

According to Foutz, the Supervisors “assassinated the school board” during the public hearing on the school division budget. When he suggested Risavi may have been disingenuous in his manipulation of numbers pertinent to that budget discussion, Lowry weighed in with comments of her own.

Lowry advised that she had met with Risavi “last week” and had taken advantage of the opportunity to become familiar with the jurisdiction’s budget considerations. She immediately addressed the budget consideration Foutz had cited as a Risavi manipulation and presented a clear picture of how the value was derived by the County Administrator.

One week earlier Lowry attended the Board of Supervisors meeting. The Supervisors acknowledged her presence and welcomed her to Westmoreland County. Lowry told that board that she was spending her first weeks on the job “getting oriented.”

The two Westmoreland County boards intend to convene in joint session prior to September in order to address as yet unresolved budgetary matters. The meeting date has not yet been announced.

 

Betsy Ficklin

 

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