The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Snyder County

April 29, 2014

Petitions filed in court to oust two Midd-West directors

MIDDLEBURG — Petitions to remove Midd-West school board President Victor Abate and director Ronald Wilson for neglect of duty were filed in Snyder County Court on Monday afternoon.

Nearly 300 people endorsed the petitions that began circulating April 15, the day after the school board voted to suspend without pay Acting Superintendent Daphne Snook amid a criminal investigation into an alleged breach of the district email system.

Click Here to see the petition to remove Victor Abate

Click Here to read the petititon to remove Ronald Wilson

The taxpayers also are calling for the criminal investigation against Snook to be dropped.

Neither Abate nor Wilson responded to calls for comment.

When Mount Pleasant Mills resident Jenn Arbogast spoke about filing the petitions during Monday’s public school board meeting, she was restricted to speaking for three minutes.

Standing up to continue her remarks, Middleburg resident Letti Siska was not allowed to raise any comments about Snook. At the start of the meeting, Abate informed the large crowd that the topic was off limits because no employee had waived the right of confidentiality.

“The bottom line is this board is not functioning properly,” Siska said.

The petitions are just the latest in a series of controversies connected to the western Snyder County school district, including the resignation of Superintendent Wesley Knapp, who was charged with incompetence and neglect of duty; the resignation of newly elected board member Scott Norman, who cited a lack of board leadership and “dirty politics;” and letters sent by Wilson to the entire district faculty and staff threatening termination if they don’t follow board directors and another letter threatening criminal action against Beavertown Pastor James Plank if he continued to protest the board’s decision.

Wilson’s behavior and alleged violation of school policy by using email to harass employees and Agate’s alleged “chronic abuse of power” were noted in the petitions seeking their ouster. Both were elected in 2011.

“Local school board membership is not just a public office, it’s a public trust,” the Wilson petition said.

Abate was specifically taken to task for using his position as board president to carry out personal vendettas.

An opponent of the closure of two elementary schools a few years ago, Abate is accused of obtaining a board seat to “ensure retribution” for the closures and violating the code of ethics by refusing to work with the administration.

The petition also claims Abate abused his position and “defamed” Knapp and Snook by presenting charges against Knapp — which led the former administrator to resign rather than publicly answer them — and calling for the recent criminal investigation of Snook.

“It is unmistakable that Mr. Abate’s modus operandi is to frighten the board into believing that suspension/termination of an employee is necessary,” the petition said, adding that his “unacceptable management of personnel situations substantiate that he is unfit to serve on the board.”

Regarding Snook’s suspension, the petition says her due process rights are being violated and that she was given less than a week to prepare for a May 5 hearing before the board regarding her suspension. Snook, who denies any wrongdoing, is scheduled to appear with her Williamsport attorney, Michael Zicolello.

It further claims that Snook’s removal from office occurred shortly after she submitted an application for the vacant superintendent position. The application allegedly was hand-delivered to Mary Curley of the Chester County Intermediate Unit, hired by the board to conduct the statewide search, which they now claim to have never received.

Meanwhile, a separate petition to remove board director and past president Nancy Kroh is making its way through the courts. The petition was endorsed by 73 taxpayers several weeks ago claiming she unlawfully approved contracts and public fund expenditures without board approval, controlled votes regarding financial issues and facilitated the illegal closure of two elementary schools.

Kroh denies the allegations, and a hearing date on her objections in county court is pending.

On Monday, the board declined by a vote of 3-3, with Kroh abstaining and director Shawn Sassaman absent, not to pay the $6,784 legal bill submitted by the Camp Hill firm Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman and Goggin, representing her in the matter.

The board earlier agreed to allow the district’s insurance carrier to cover the legal fees, but on Monday, board directors Wilson, Ronald Hoffman and Sherryl Wagner opposed it.

Kroh publicly asked for an explanation,  but no one spoke up.

She then turned to business manager Lynn Naugle for an explanation of the consequences if the board declines to turn the bill over to the insurance carrier.

Naugle said the law firm could sue for breach of contract and it could affect premium costs.

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