Pittston Area board fires teacher accused of inappropriate relationship with student

By Camille Fioti for Times Leader | May 17th, 2016 11:24 pm

YATESVILLE — The Pittston Area School Board on Tuesday voted to fire a teacher, who has been under investigation for an alleged inappropriate relationship with a student, amid a potential Sunshine Law violation.

After a brief executive session, the board unanimously voted to terminate “employee number 41166,” effective April 28, 2016. A source within the school district confirmed to the Times Leader the employee was Colleen McGarry.

The motion was grouped together with other agenda items and all the items were voted on together.

A Times Leader correspondent interrupted the roll call on a point of order and asked why the employee wasn’t named.

The board said the employee wasn’t named because it was a “personnel issue” and that the employee number “is the only identifying information it is required to give.”

After the meeting, when the correspondent told board solicitor Sam Falcone and board president Kent Bratlee that omitting the employee’s name before a vote was a violation of the Sunshine Law, they both stated that it wasn’t.

“I think the solicitor is incorrect,” Melissa Melewski, media law counsel to the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said when the situation was described to her.

Melewski said “If the public doesn’t know who the teacher is, they can’t have a meaningful discussion” on the matter. And the state Sunshine Act guarantees the public the right to comment on such public actions of a board before they occur.

In addition, the state Right to Know law makes a public school employee’s hiring and firing public record, according to Melewski.

McGarry taught 11th and 12th grade mathematics, including advanced and honors classes.

When contacted Tuesday, District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis said she couldn’t comment on charges in connection with McGarry.

The board also unanimously voted to approve the proposed final budget for the 2016-2017 school-year. The $47,544,243 budget includes a millage increase of 3.3 percent. The new millage will be 14.9773. A mill is a $1 tax on every $1,000 of assessed property value. The increase would amount to roughly $96 per year for an average home valued at $200,000.

During the work session that preceded the regular meeting, business manager Albert Melone presented the proposed budget which included an alternate millage increase of 5.28 percent.

“We need (the increase) just to break even,” Melone said. “The truth of the matter is that we have no choice.”

Melone said everyone from every department needs to come together to save the district.

“You will take down your own school district if you keep taking care of yourself,” he said. “Every department is under the gun; from transportation to entitlements, “

“This is about the future,” Melone said. “If we do not make it, it is in my opinion that it will be on everyone. No one will be able to point to anyone and say ‘they did it,’ or ‘he did it.’”

The board’s next regular meeting will be held 7 p.m. June 21, with an executive session starting at 6 p.m. for personnel purposes.

Times Leader staff writer Melanie Mizenko contributed to this report.


By Camille Fioti for Times Leader

Reach the Times Leader newsroom at 570-829-7242 or on Twitter @TLnews.