Newswatch 16 Investigates: Should Board Members Vote on Contracts for Family Members?

MOSCOW -- Your local school board may have at least one member with a spouse who is a teacher or who works in the school system.

When it comes to voting on pay raises and benefits, are these board members enriching themselves?

Newswatch 16 found one school board in Lackawanna County where three members have immediate family working in the district.

This past February, three members of the North Pocono School Board who voted in favor of a new contract for teachers and some support staff essentially voted to give raises and full health care benefits to their own wives or children.

The fact that they voted at all upsets some of their fellow school board members.

North Pocono School Board members Bill Burke and Ralph Colo say they're disappointed the board passed a three-year contract in February, but they're angry that three colleagues with immediate family members covered by that contract voted at all.

"Would you negotiate against a spouse or against a family member?" asked Colo.

The North Pocono teachers union represents these family members. The new contract passed by a vote of 5-2. It includes a 3.5 percent raise for each of the three years.

And the school district in the Moscow area continues to pay 100 percent of health insurance premiums for union members.

"It doesn't pass the smell test," said Burke.

Board member Diane Croom is also the mother of the vice president of the North Pocono teachers union.

"I don't think it's a conflict, and I don't benefit from it," said Croom.

To prove that, Croom carries an opinion she received a few years ago from the state ethics commission. It reads, "the ethics act would not prohibit you from voting on a labor contract."

School board member Howard McIntosh also voted on the contract that covers his wife.

"No violations, OK? And that's all I have to say to you," McIntosh said.

McIntosh ran for the school board four years ago while his daughter was looking for a teaching job.

McIntosh told the Times-Tribune newspaper, "She will not apply for a job at North Pocono while he is on the board."

But last year, McIntosh's wife was hired as a school nurse. She is covered by the contract he just voted for.

"She left another job where she had health coverage," McIntosh said. "I'm not going to get into any details with you!"

Board member Mark Powell also voted in favor of the contract. His wife is a teacher. Not only does the school district pay 100 percent of her health insurance premiums, he is also covered by her policy.

"I realize how it's perceived, and to stay squeaky clean, I'm willing to come in front of people and say, 'I'm here. I'm allowed to do this. I am squeaky clean,'" Powell said.

"It's called 'feathering your own nest,'" said Burke. "You vote, 'yea,' yes, I'm in favor of it, knowing full well the financial benefits of this contract are going to come to you directly and your family."

"Simply because something doesn't look right, doesn't mean it constitutes a violation of the law," said attorney Al Flora.

Flora served as a school board solicitor in Luzerne County for more than a decade. He says it appears the three North Pocono board members who voted for the contract did not break ethics rules because their relatives didn't get special treatment.

"The spouses are receiving a benefit as members of the union that is no different than any other member of the union," he explained.

Even so, North Pocono board member Ralph Colo believes state ethics rules should be tightened.

"Clearly, somebody should take a look at this. It's just not right."

Colo hopes the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission will take a look at the recent vote by the North Pocono School Board.

He filed a complaint with the ethics commission but has not heard if that agency will investigate.

We should note that board members Howard McIntosh and Mark Powell are running for re-election.

Diane Croom is not on the ballot.

7 comments

  • E

    McIntosh ha! Typical Irish piece of trash that contradicts himself while speaking. Lol. No surprise to me that no one cared when his ancestors were starving to death. It’s too bad some of them survived and made the journey to this country, because they do nothing but smoke, drink and breed.

  • Enough already

    “Simply because something doesn’t look right, doesn’t mean it constitutes a violation of the law”. Does that theory apply to the President as well? If not, perhaps it should. Or is it reserved for local politics only.

  • Get Real

    This is not news. It’s a well known fact in this area, just like having to “pay” for a teaching position, that school board candidates run to either support their own personal agenda and or that of the teachers. Why do you think most teachers contracts are settled in favor of the teachers despite overwhelming public sentiment against it?

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