The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

September 17, 2013

Emails show ties behind Shikellamy hiring of 2

SUNBURY -  Emails obtained through a right-to-know request indicate that the successful candidates for principal and assistant principal of Shikellamy High School had an inside track to the jobs.

New Principal Ernie Jackson had a long-standing friendship with Superintendent Pat Kelley, while Assistant Principal Brandy Wiest had been friends with the district’s director of education, Abbey Walshaw-Wertz, when they both worked in Upper Dauphin School District. Walshaw-Wertz, who was on the district’s 11-member search committee, wrote a letter to her fellow committee members recommending Wiest for the job.

Kelley and Walshaw-Wertz defended their actions Monday and said they chose the best qualified candidates.

“Bottom line is we are happy with who we chose,” Kelley said. “We did nothing wrong.”

Kelley acknowledged he knew Jackson prior to Jackson’s hiring, but the superintendent said he hadn’t spoken with Jackson for years, other than seeing him at a golf outing last year in Bloomsburg.

Jackson was hired at the Aug. 1 meeting of the Shikellamy school board, but a July 30 email indicated that the board action was a formality.

In the email, Jackson told Kelly “as discussed” he would officially tell his employer, a Catholic High School in New Jersey, about the Shikellamy job after the school board meeting.

Jackson said in the email that the priest is “cool” and would not give him trouble about leaving.

In their emails Walshaw-Wertz and Wiest talked in July about Walshaw-Wertz writing a letter on behalf of Wiest to which the administrator agreed.

On Aug. 2, the day after Wiest was hired, Walshaw-Wertz sent Wiest an email asking her if she read The Daily Item’s report of the hiring.

The report noted the friendships between the administrators and new hires and noted that neither former principal Terry Roden nor assistant principal Jeff Angelo, who had applied for their former positions, had received an interview. Roden, who had been high school principal for 13 years, retired after an undisclosed disagreement with former Superintendent Robin Musto.

Wiest said in an email that she read the report and responded: “Where did they get that from? I never even told anyone that we were friends and so what if we are. So there’s something wrong with liking the people you work with. Why wouldn’t you hire someone you worked with and that you have first-hand knowledge does a good job. This is unbelievable!”

Walshaw-Wertz responded: “No worries! You’ll do great. I just don’t want to give them any fuel for a little while.”

Wiest went on to say that she didn’t put in her resignation until after the board meeting and that “only a few people knew” and that she hoped no one was “dumb enough” to think the school board would hire someone just because they worked with the person.

Walshaw-Wertz said Monday she has a professional relationship with Wiest.

“Have we gone to dinner? Yes. “ Walshaw-Wertz said. “Do we know each other? Yes.”

On Monday, Wiest said: “I am friends with her, and I don’t see why Abbey writing me a letter is wrong. “I have sat on many panels and have written letters for people.”

Jackson, who was hired at $93,453, started work immediately, but Wiest wasn’t able to begin her $87,453 job with the district until Sept. 11.

Federal and state agencies both said there is no monitoring of the hiring process in school districts, and if someone is hired because of a relationship with either a school director or an administrator, the only way to fix it is to go to the polls and elect new school board members.

Representatives at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said the hiring process sounded a bit like “cronyism,” but there was not much that could be done.

A spokesman for the state Department of Education said the agency has no control over who a school district hires.

“A citizen’s only avenues of recourse are to appear before the board to complain or to replace board members at the next school board election,” Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller said.

n Email comments to fscarcella@dailyitem.com.

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