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SCHOOL BOARD UNDER FIRE OVER SUPERINTENDENT PROBE

The Lackawanna School Board's decision to hire a lawyer at $225 an hour to investigate the new superintendent is mobilizing parents who say it is time to reform the board.

About 25 parents have been meeting informally on the issue. In letters to 15 elected officials, including the mayor and Council members, the parents question the motives and effectiveness of the board. They maintain that a thorough investigation of candidates should precede -- not follow -- the hiring.

Monica Kole was chosen superintendent and signed a contract at a special meeting June 3. Board President Kenneth Motyka and Vice President John Makeyenko provided two of the four votes that put her in the top job.

Half a year later, at the Jan. 17 special meeting, Motyka and Makeyenko again provided two of the four votes needed to hire a lawyer to investigate an employee, whom they declined to name. They also declined to specify the allegations. However, people in the district recognize the target of the investigation as Kole.

Judy Faircloth, president of Truman School Association, said Kole's background should have been investigated before she was hired.

"What they are saying is that they didn't do it -- if, indeed, they find something," she said.

Motyka disagrees.

"They don't know what the allegations are, so how can they make a statement like that?" he said.

Motyka also insists that the target of the investigation was not publicly identified and, as an employee, has rights not to have the allegations disclosed.

Early in the school year, four board members, including Motyka and Makeyenko, rejected some of Kole's nominees for jobs, questioned her manner of speaking to board members and made it clear they were angered at her call to get politics out of hiring. They also were angered when, after a series of school closings for snow days, Kole would not declare a one-day holiday to honor the school's champion football team.

Faircloth said that board members apparently feel they are not accountable.

"The first person they need to feel accountable to is the citizen of the district," she said.

The letter says, "The time has come for the proper authorities to step in and take action before we witness the demise of our school district."

It spells out nine concerns about the current board, with "misconduct" heading the list that alleges:

Disregard for children.

Disrespect toward parents, teachers, administrators and students.

Disregard of educational responsibilities and needs of children.

Disregard of financial responsibilities.

Lack of professionalism.

Retaliation against employees who speak out.

Political favoritism.

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