School board president says state education secretary should quit

Posted: 11:39 PM EDT Oct 15, 2012   Updated: 11:42 PM EDT Oct 15, 2012

The Bethlehem Area School Board president wants Pennsylvania's education secretary expelled from Gov. Tom Corbett's administration.

Michael Faccinetto revealed at Monday night's school board meeting that he is drafting a resolution asking Ron Tomalis to resign because of false accusations made by the state Department of Education that the Bethlehem district cheated on the annual state reading and math tests.

"We can't just sit back and let the [state Department of Education] criticize us without responding," he told his colleagues. "And I hope to get other districts in the Lehigh Valley on board with this resolution."

State education officials apologized last month for leaving the impression that the Bethlehem district would be subject to increased monitoring after an investigation into test scores on the district's PSSA tests. District officials complained that the state unfairly suggested teachers had changed students' answers even though an investigation found the high number of wrong-to-right erasures were due to over-proctoring.

Faccinetto said he will present his resolution at the board's human resources committee meeting on Nov. 12. It will raise "five or six" objections to statements made by Tomalis, including one linking falling PSSA scores to enhanced security measures. Faccinetto said the resolution would not be based on "political opinion or ideology, but facts -- facts to answer what has been thrown against us."

Several of his colleagues on the board said they were pleased with Faccinetto's initiative. Michelle Cann commented, "You're either for us or against us when it comes to public education, and it's blatant that their [Corbett and Tomalis'] position is against public schools on Pennsylvania. We have to ask for a change."

Faccinetto was realistic about the effect of the board passing his resolution, saying he's not expecting to see a resignation letter from Tomalis anytime soon.

In other business, the board voted 6-3 to table the LERTA tax abatement program that includes former Bethlehem Steel land near Route 412 after hearing from Joseph Colucci, business manager for the Local 36 of the Ironworkers union.

Colucci said local ironworkers are being denied a chance to bid on work being done by Majestic Realty Inc. in the Local Economic Revitalization Assistance zone.

Board members Sudantha Vidanage, Aurea Ortiz and Basilio Bonilla Jr. spoke in favor of postponing a decision on the LERTA program until the administration can determine whether the board has any right to insist that developers give local workers a chance to do the work. "If we let them [developers] only [use] people from the outside, they I don't think this is a good bargain," said Ortiz.

Board members Cann, Eugene McKeon and William Burkhardt voted against the delay.

The school district and Northampton County have until the end of the year to renew the LERTA program. Bethlehem has already signed off on renewing the program through 2017.