Friday, July 22, 2011

HR Director John Castrovinci's Brother, Frank Castrovinci, Appointed to School Board; D'Huy Contract Vote Tabled; Kerry Myers Insults Public

Frank Castrovinci (right) was appointed to the school board last night 6:1
Castrovinci was appointed to fill a 2-year seat, even though he is on the ballot 
to run against Kerri Leonard-Ellison (middle) in the fall for a 4-year seat.

Posted by: Noël Jones

Citizens who spoke up during public comment had a small victory at last night's Easton Area School Board meeting--the vote to approve D'Huy Engineering as the district's engineer on retainer has been TABLED until the board can review the top three bids side-by-side and assess whether or not D'Huy is offering the best value to taxpayers.

Last night's special meeting of the board to appoint an interim board member, which preceded the regular board meeting, was yet another circus. Residents are missing some serious drama when they miss these meetings! Citizens came out and spoken up in very measured and diplomatic tones to their concerns about nepotism and croneyism, and got yelled at by School Board President, Kerry Myers, who said in a very loud voice that it was, "pathetic that people who were not born and raised here come out and bash the ones that are born and raised here and accuse us of nepotism and croneyism." This is how our elected officials speak to us. We are pathetic. And if we were not born and raised here, we do not have a right to criticize the public officials we elect, or the administrators we pay with our property taxes. This is what I sometimes refer to as "The Easton How Dare You" that is so prevalent in our local politics. Never mind the fact that a couple of the residents speaking up were life-time residents, or, as Carinne Buzzuto pointed out--4th generation in Easton. If you are a "newcomer," you are guilty, and if you are an old-timer who happens to agree with a newcomer on anything, you are guilty by association. Interesting to point out here though, that that is only true if the political body doesn't like what's being said. Otherwise, the old-timer is still an old-timer, and therefore, virtuous and deserving of respect.

One of the speakers, Bill Marley, an octogenarian and downtown resident since moving from the Poconos in 2000, was so insulted by Myers' tirade that he got up with his cane and stormed out (as fast and furious as someone with a cane can storm out).

Life-long Easton resident, Lynne Holden got up to speak after that, and told Myers that she was "shocked and appalled" that a public official would react to and address the public so aggressively when
the citizens speaking had presented their concerns calmly and respectfully, and reminded the school board that taking criticism from constituents comes with the job, and that the public has a legal right to express their concerns, whether elected officials like it or not.

What residents were objecting to, was the idea of appointing of Frank Castrovinci--brother of EASD HR Director John Castrovinci--to the school board seat vacated by Sarah Bilotti. The objection being, of course, that the elected school board is supposed to be the public's watchdog over the administration that we pay with our tax money, and who spends our tax money on services, programs and building projects for the school district. So how is the public, in a district (and a city), rife with croneyism and nepotism, supposed to have faith that one brother will watch over another? Despite appeals from the public, the board approved Castrovinci 6:1. Frank Castrovinci is now literally his brother's keeper.

After the special meeting was over and the regular board meeting began, Kerry Myers, to his credit, apologized for his reaction. And Frank Castrovinci, to his credit, used his first vote as a board member after hearing the concerns of residents during the next public comment section, to table the vote to confirm D'Huy as the school district's engineer, so that the board can have time to review the bids of the top three bidders. I made clear in my public comments that my objection to Castrovinci's appointment is nothing personal--that he could very well be a fine professional, and he may have the ability to stay focused on his role and act independently of his brother--but that unfortunately, distrust in the public is at an all-time high, and all of our municipal bodies need to not only avoid nepotism, but avoid even the appearance of nepotism if they are ever to win back the public's trust. I also objected to the idea of his being appointed to finish the last two years of Bilotti's term, when he is clearly not seriously interested in serving out the term, because he is already on the ballot for a four year term. It gives him an undue boost in his campaign, to already be a board member when he is a challenger to Kerri Leonard-Ellison, and it forces the district to have to appoint someone all over again to finish Bilotti's term, if he wins the four-year seat.

Frank Castrovinci is a controller at his company, and as I said in my comments when I congratulated him, having a controller's talents on the school board was an attractive idea, and that now that he is on, I hoped he would exercise some control over spending (which brought a laugh from the audience). I have to say, the fact that he used his first vote to table the vote on D'Huy, and then recused himself from the rest of the votes that night since he was brand new, won him some respect from me, because he at least demonstrated that he intends to listen and consider public comment without getting defensive, review documents himself and make his own assessment. If he weren't a) related to an administrator, and b) running against the one school board member that we have left that DOES seem to be reading all the documents herself and standing up for the public to make sure that the district is following policy and not engaging in wasteful spending (Kerri Leonard-Ellison), then I might even support him. If only he were running for the remainder of the two-year spot to which he has now been appointed...

Here is Ed Sieger's report for the Express-Times on the meeting, and I will be posting a link to the video soon, but the district's site is down at the moment...

In other good news, another intrepid citizen, Cathy McIntyre, who was up against Castrovinci for the appointment to Sarah Bilotti's position, announced last night that she will be running for the remainder of Bilotti's term in the fall. It is great to see residents beginning to step up and into the ring for this very important election, where SEVEN OF NINE positions on the school board will potentially be turning over. For all the complainers out there who have been calling for the heads of the board, this is your chance to prove that you do more than complain, and are ready to have a meaningful effect on the decisions of our school district. If we are to have real races, with real choices, we need to go deep on candidates for all seven of these open positions.



noel jones said...

To check out lengthy discussion comments on D'Huy, please check out my July 16th post on the EASD re: D'Huy...

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
noel jones said...

i welcome any and all readers to disagree with other commenters and myself, but personal attacks without points to contribute to the public discussion will be deleted.

Kate R said...

Noel, I have recently discovered this blog and it is really helping me to become informed about what's going on with our School Board. I respect you for voicing your opinions, even if I don't always agree with them (I do agree with most of them so far). It forces us all to consider what our own opinions are and to be more involved. This most recent post raised a few questions for me...

*Is it possible that Castrovinci and Leonard-Ellison will both be elected to the school board this fall or do they run for a specific seat? What is the advantage to running for the 4 year seat against Leonard-Ellison? Why wouldn't he run, potentially unopposed, for one of the other two?
*You say "it forces the district to have to appoint someone all over again to finish Bilotti's term, if he wins the four-year seat." Is that true? I thought they were only appointing someone until the elections. Presumably someone else will be elected to the seat that Bilotti leaves vacant. Isn't that THE two year seat that we're discussing here?
*Am I correct that Holtzberger is also stepping down two years into a four year term? My understanding then is that the board would appoint someone to her seat until December but that someone else will be elected to finish the remaining two years. Is that right?
*Why is it that you would consider McIntyre a reasonable candidate even though she is married to someone who teaches in the district? Wouldn't that be just as much a conflict of interests as Castrovinci's?

Thanks again for helping us all to understand these issues!

Anonymous said...

The school board are fools to approve the d'huy contract.

Anonymous said...

How about Bob Fehnel and his love for D'huy. Bob Fehnel claims that he is a master of capitol projects given that he has been on the board for so many years. The guy was president of the Wilson board when the high school was built and we all know the lawsuits that occurred during that process. The high school is now falling apart. It wouldn't be wise for the board to look to him for advise.

Anonymous said...

D'huy eningeering won't be in business for long. They have burnt too many bridges and ripped off too many school districts.

noel jones said...

Kate R--thanks for posting! You are my favorite kind of commenter--one who is comfortable both agreeing, disagreeing and even better ASKING QUESTIONS. That's really what this blog is all about--readers ability to inform themselves and each other. So when someone puts a question out there, it not only gives me the opportunity to share my thoughts (or in some cases, even more questions) about it, but it gives other readers the opportunity to respond to the questions as well.

Here's my take on your questions, and I invite anyone else out there to correct me or add to what I'm writing here:

*Part of the confusion around this is the use of the phrase "two-year term." As I understand it, Sarah Bilotti was two years into a FOUR-year term, meaning that there are two years left. Because she resigned, the board needed to appoint a replacement. My understanding is that that person stays until the election this fall, at which point they can run for the job of serving out Bilotti's last two years. McIntyre announced that she wants to run. So the idea is that it's ideal if someone applying to be appointed is actually interested in the rest of the term for the sake of potential continuity, whereas Castrovinci definitely isn't, as he's already on the ballot for the 4-year term.

*You are right that Holzberger is resigning two years into a four-year term, so there will be another appointment at the August 18th meeting. NOW IS THE TIME for anyone interested to apply for the appointment, or to encourage someone you think would be a good board member to apply.


noel jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
noel jones said...


*Your question about McIntyre is an excellent one, and worthy of discussion, so I hope others will jump in here with good points on either side of this issue.

The first thing I want to make clear is that I have absolutely nothing personal against any of these people--I do not know them personally. Any opinions I have come directly from their performance. In the same vein I have no personal objection to Castrovinci, but I do have a personal objection to a) his being related to an administrator, and b) running against Ellison, who is, in my opinion, the one incumbent worth keeping.

I do not have an objection to a board member being related to an employee of the district, except in certain instances where one relative can give someone an unfair advantage in getting hired over a better applicant, or when one relative can influence a contract that will benefit a relative financially.

Some residents feel more strongly than I do on this--they are so upset about nepotism that they do not want to see ANYONE on the board that is tied to the district in any way. I do not feel that way because I feel that a) in A town this small and a district this big, that would be eliminating a tremendous amount of qualified applicants/candidates, and b) out of 9 board members, I think that it is valuable to have a couple on the board who actually understand the inner-workings of the district. Above all, I would like to see diversity on the board--some people with experience in the district, some with legal experience, some with financial experience, some young, some old, people with and without kids in the district, and people of various cultural backgrounds that represent the diversity in our community. Now--my one caveat with electing anyone that has ties to the district--is that one should have confidence before voting for them, that they will have enough integrity to recuse themselves from voting on the occasional issue that might benefit a relative, i.e., a board member who is married to a teacher should not be voting on a teachers' contract. A good example of this is Jodi Hess, who recused herself from the vote on the teachers contract, because her husband is a teacher.

Castrovinci is a different story, because we're talking about someone related to an administrator--and not just any administrator--the administrator in charge of hiring. School board members are supposed to be the watchdogs over the administration, to make sure that they are following policy and spending our money wisely. So by appointing or electing Castrovinci, we are literally asking him to be his brother's keeper, and as they say, "blood is thicker than water," so it is A LOT of trust to ask of a community like Easton's, who has been so upset for so long about nepotism and croneyism, to trust that Frank would call his brother John out on behalf of taxpayers if he felt he was out of line.

Again, he may be entirely capable of that--but public trust and perception are concrete realities in the political world, and he is going to have to convince the public of that during his campaign, and his time in his appointed seat. He was very smart to apply for the appointment, as it gives him a chance to demonstrate his independence and integrity separate from the administration, rather than just telling voters "trust me."

As for McIntyre, I would have no problem with her on the board, as long as she recused herself from votes that would financially benefit her husband, and therefore her. That is what she will need to convince voters of during her campaign. She will have to make
that campaign promise and be ready to get crucified by the public if she breaks it (which, hopefully, she wouldn't do).

I would love to hear others' thoughts on this!

Anonymous said...

Castrovinci shouldn't get the appointment because his brother works for the district but it is not fair to deny him the position just becasue his brother works for the district. He isn't his supervisor and frankly a member of the board shouldn't be involved in the day to day operations. Unfortunately this Board needs a person with his experience becasue thy don't know how o be a Board and the Superintendent doesn't know how to lead.

noel jones said...

Anon 4:01--thanks for posting. I don't think anyone is saying that the board should be involved in daily operations--that would be impossible since they don't meet on a daily basis. But it IS the board's job to be the public's watchdog over major decisions and expenditures by the administration.

I agree that his experience as a controller is a plus in his favor. I just wish he would run for the remaining two years of Bilotti's seat, instead of running against the only good board member we have left.

Anonymous said...

do you mean the director that single-handidly placed her child in the gifted program and made her presence known every day at the high school? Hmm, not getting involved in the day to day? This Board is involved in everything or they get D'Huy involved. I agree with Anon 2:32 -- D'Huy needs to go.

noel jones said...

not sure who you mean

Anonymous said...

Lets focus on missing money?
Only true nonprofits are entitled to a free ride for space within EASD-supposedly, anyway..

Can anyone confirm that ""Little People's Country Club" is a true nonprofit? Its been using EASD space for 100's of days. Other groups are required to pay $100 per use.

Are some entities more equal than others ?

noel jones said...

Anon 5:57--did you try looking them up on line? Using an organization's web site with have an "About" page, or something similar on which it describes itself and its mission and that's where it would say whether or not it is a 501C3 (nonprofit).

noel jones said...

then please post the link if you find it so other readers will know.

Piaggio said...

Noel, the EASB director referred to by "anon july 23, 8:59 AM" is Ms Elliston. What a coincidence it was during the spring of 2010 budget negotiations that all of the AP/honor courses that were taken away from the HS staff and supposedly were going to be taught by NCC profs were cancelled except for the the courses signed up to be taken by Ms. Elliston's daughter at the HS. Ms Elliston was more of a fixture at the HS than one of the water fountains until her recent health problem.

noel jones said...

Piaggio--thanks for the post. I do not recall which A/P classes were canceled and which were kept, but I personally hate to hear about losing A/P course work at all when the district is constantly struggling with getting out of Corrective Action II of No Child Left Behind. I do not think we have a problem with board members and administrators being at the schools too much, rather, the complaint I hear a lot more often is that they aren't there enough, and are ruling from afar. As much as I struggle to encourage people to be engaged, it's just not in me at this point to criticize a board member for being TOO engaged. I think it's another reason that Kerri Leonard-Ellison should be re-elected.

To fight for her kids classes or teachers is what any engaged parent does, and no one stops being a parent because she becomes a board member. She has the power of 1--out of 9 board members. She has no ability to control the board or the administration on her own--they make their own decisions, as does she.

The fact that she has persevered as a public servant, sticking up for students, teachers and taxpayers alike while other board members were content to rubber stamp Kish and McGinley and not stick their necks out--all while going through multiple surgeries to remove a brain tumor--is amazing and quite frankly, heroic. I love to be persuaded, but I'm afraid you'd have to me that she's an axe-murderer to get me to not support her re-election this fall. She is the ONLY good board member we have left.

My biggest concern is that voters will get both mad and LAZY in the next election and simply vote out all the incumbents, rather than attending a meeting and seeing this one in action. She never sits back and takes it easy--she is always reading policies, agendas and contract, speaking up, and yes--walking the halls of the school district--I think she's great, and we can only hope to get six more like her in the next election who will action DO SOMETHING instead of just sitting on their buts quietly and patting themselves on the back for their "public service."

Piaggio said...

Noel, I somewhat agree with your positive comments about Ms. Ellison and her work on the SB. But, permit me to provide an illustration. Suppose you, Noel, had a child in 10th grade and she/he elected to take two specific AP/Honors courses for her/his Junior year. The SB debates eliminating those two courses at the Honors/AP level. You eloquently and publicly address the SB and implore them to keep them in the budget. Remember you are standing up and fighting for your child's education. They ignore you and eliminate all of the Honors/AP courses except for the two that one of your child's classmate, (whose parent just happens to be a SB member), has chosen. Is that fair and equitable? It peeves me to no end when a parent uses his/her position and influence to obtain something that the average parent cannot. In spite of what I have said, I still would like to see both Frank Castrovinci and Ms. Ellison on the SB in Dec. I had both Frank Jr, and John in class and taught with Frank Sr. and they are all outstanding people. I think we need Ellison's inquisitive nature and Castrovinci's business experience on the board. BTW, the flash mob on Sat. was awesome. Too bad you missed it. It was really neat to see so many people around the circle laughing and smiling and enjoying themselves on such a hot and stifling day.

noel jones said...

Piaggio--I understand what your saying, but I still say that a single board member only has the power of one. She does not have the power to make the board vote with her. If a majority voted to keep those classes and get rid of others, it's because a majority felt it was a good decision to cut some classes and keep others.

Anonymous said...

As a rule school board members are not suppose to be fixtures inside the school. They would be stepping out of their role - their job is governance not teaching and not administrating. They should not be influencing either of these areas where they are professional experts other then with respect to what comes before them at meetings and there is a process for that. Best practices.

Anonymous said...

sorry, meant to say where they are not professional experts, where they have not had training or education they should not be interfering except in their capacities at school board meetings. Even if they were once teachers, as in the case of Vulcano, it is inappropriate for them to interfere in the daily operations of the school.

As a mother, yes that is something else. She should disclose a possible conflict of interest on any votes.