Old Forge School Board Debates Accuracy Of Minutes

February 21, 2018 GMT

OLD FORGE — Old Forge Superintendent John Rushefski and school board Secretary Chris Thomas clashed Tuesday over versions of meeting minutes from Dec. 14 and Jan. 16.

Rushefski said Thomas’ minutes censor what citizens really spoke about during public comment ­— specifically questions about Thomas’ $130,000 settlement with the district.

Thomas said his minutes follow board policy. Reading directly from the policy manual, Thomas said minutes are required to reflect the names of all citizens who spoke during meetings and the subject matter.

The board was split on the minutes and voted 5-3 on Tuesday to pass Thomas’ version. Board President Joan Wilk, board Vice President Patrick Aulisio and Director Julie Grimes cast the dissenting votes; Director Frank Scavo was absent.

The January minutes include comments from Times-Tribune columnist Chris Kelly.

Thomas’ version states only that Kelly asked the board about settlement agreements and separation agreements. Rushefski’s version states Kelly “expressed anger at the district and Christopher Thomas for not releasing settlement agreements paid for with public money.”

Thomas, a former Old Forge teacher and principal, was fired in March and then allowed to resign in July. The Times-Tribune revealed the details of his settlement in February after the state’s Office of Open Records issued a ruling that the document is public. The seven-page agreement does not detail why Thomas was fired.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Kelly said Thomas’ minutes are inaccurate and that in January he asked specifically about Thomas’ settlement and separation agreement.

Old Forge resident Bob Hughes also asked about Thomas’ settlement in December. Thomas’ version states Hughes “asked the board about district settlements.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Kelly asked Thomas if former Old Forge Police Chief Larry Semenza attended a board policy committee meeting on Monday, which Thomas confirmed. He asked if the board was considering hiring Semenza, who apparently runs a security consulting firm, to provide security to the school district.

Board Director Alisha Marmo said the board has not yet talked about hiring anyone to provide security to the district.

Director Julie Grimes later said Semenza “offered, free of charge, to come into the school and do an evaluation” of the district’s security measures.

Semenza was previously accused of inappropriate contact with a then-15-year-old girl. He was convicted in October 2013 of corruption of a minor and failure to report child abuse and sentenced to 18 months to four years in prison. After he was granted a new trial and released from prison in September 2015, he pleaded guilty to harassment.

In the aftermath of the school shooting in Florida last week, the conversation at Tuesday’s two-hour meeting often turned to Old Forge’s security. The board will hold a buildings and grounds meeting Monday at 6 p.m. to further discuss security. The meeting is open to the public.

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