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Lawmakers, education officials at odds; School Board faces off against Council in Lackawanna

A tug of war between the Lackawanna Board of Education and the City Council took a strange turn this week, when School Board members rescinded their approval of a councilman's request to hold meetings with city residents in a school.

Fourth Ward Councilman Keith Lewis can no longer use the Martin Road Elementary School for town hall meetings May 9 and June 13. Board members had approved Lewis' use of the school back in February.

"Fun and games in Lackawanna," Lewis said in reaction to the board's vote Tuesday. "I thought it was petty, and I thought it was uncalled for."

The about-face came a day after the City Council tabled a school district request to use the city-owned Bocce Court as a polling site for the May 15 School Board election and budget vote. Lewis joined in the unanimous vote.

Council members and some residents expressed concern that having just one polling site in the 1st Ward would prevent many residents from being able to vote.

Board members took sharp exception to the Council's unusual vote during a special meeting Tuesday.

"It's never happened. It's unheard of," said Councilwoman Maureen Gambino. "If the city is going to dictate what the school district is going to do, it's going to go both ways then."

Another board member, Kenneth S. Motyka, said he was appalled by the action of the Council, which he termed unprecedented.

"They've disenfranchised the people of the 2nd Ward by not appointing a 2nd Ward Council member. And they're going to get involved in our business?" said Motyka, referring to Council seat that has remained vacant since former member Geoffrey Szymanski was sworn in as mayor in January.

Motyka accused Council President Henry Pirowski of ulterior political motives. Pirow-ski could not be reached Wednesday to comment.

Lewis said the Council tabled the district's request intending to have a conversation with School Board members Tuesday. The conversation didn't happen, even though Lewis and Pirowski showed up at the board meeting.

A public comment period is not included in special meetings of the School Board, and the Bocce Court polling site was not on the agenda, said various board members. A measure rescinding Lewis' ability to use the school also was not part of the agenda, but board members agreed to waive the rules during the meeting to add it.

"They waived the rules to play petty politics, but they wouldn't waive the rules to have a conversation with two sitting councilmen," said Lewis.

Some residents maintain that a single polling site in the Bethlehem Park neighborhood would shut out voters who don't live in that area, which is separated from the rest of the 1st Ward by Smoke's Creek and accessible only from Route 5.

But School Board members maintained that they have no intention of excluding voters.

"It's just basically a cost-saving measure for everybody. We're just doing what's right for the taxpayers," said School Board President John W. Makeyenko.

No one complained about the use of the Bocce Court facility as the lone polling site in the 1st Ward during the March 27 vote on renovations for Truman Elementary School, Makeyenko added. And if Council members had issues with the Bocce Court site, they could have approached the School Board earlier.

The board is proceeding with plans to use the Bocce Court site, which already has been advertised as the 1st Ward polling place, Makeyenko said.