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|Pottstown School Board Members Annoyed by Colleagues' Visit to School, Mercury 2-8-10|
POTTSTOWN — A visit by two school board members to one of the district's five elementary schools raised a flurry of comments and questions Thursday night among board members who continue to wrestle with issues of trust.
During the portion of the meeting when board members can bring up any matter they wish to discuss, Polly Weand raised the issue of a Feb. 2 visit to Rupert Elementary School by board members Thomas Hylton and Valerie Harris.
She said she found out Tuesday night "when my husband came up from the basement and asked me if I knew two of my board members had toured Rupert. Well, I was a bit amazed. Normally, we are all asked if we want to go on one of these tours," Weand said.
"Why is this such a secretive situation? What about open government? Here we go again," said Weand.
Weand said neither she nor another board member she said she called but declined to name knew anything about the tour.
"The rest of us had to find out from a blog," said Weand, referring to the site SavePottstown.com, which has arisen since the election and is steadfastly critical of Hylton's proposals.
The blog reported on the visit shortly after it occurred.
"I made a couple of phone calls to discover an architect was taken through Tuesday afternoon," said Weand. "I did a little investigating to find out who the architect was."
It was Chadds Ford architect Mary DeNadai.
Weand said DeNaidi is on the board of directors of the statewide nonprofit preservation organization Preservation Pennsylvania of which the local Preservation Pottstown is a part.
(A check on Preservation Pennsylvania's Web site indicates that DeNadai, along with Hylton, are on the organization's "board of advisers." The only local members of Preservation Pennsylvania's board of directors — aside from three members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly — are its chairman, A. Roy Smith of West Chester and Kurt Zwikl, the executive director of the Schuylkill River National Heritage Area, based in Pottstown.)
"My first question is why do we have a historical architect going through Rupert Elementary School," Weand said. "This woman was even looking at the floors. I did happen to make another phone call to another board member and she assured me the floors are fine."
Added Weand, "I am finding out now when this person went through, and I have talked to some other parents who were there and saw part of this situation, this person went through with the intent to find out what else did Rupert need to have done historically."
"I'm confused. I thought we were only talking windows and so many of us were questioning why historic windows?" Weand said.
"Is it possible that the taxpayers are going to be restoring Rupert?" she asked, wondering whether there was an effort under way to put Rupert on the National Register of Historic Places. "I hope I'm wrong."
Hylton responded that the school has already been declared eligible to be put on the National Register and said it is the former Jefferson Elementary School on Beech Street which is actually on the Register.
Jefferson's listing, Hylton said, enabled the developers who converted the building into senior apartments to qualify for historic preservation tax credits, which lowered the cost of the project that put the building back on the tax rolls.
Hylton said Harris had some questions about a small rise she said she saw in a floor at Rupert during the tour Jan. 28 and he asked DeNadai to visit and explain how it could be repaired, or if it needed to be repaired.
"If I realized it would turn into such a big deal, I would have told one and all," said Hylton. "I won't make that mistake again."
School board member Robert Hartman Jr. said his concern is also about protocol because, he said, Superintendent David Krem had not been notified.
"Mr. Krem is our point of contact," Hartman said. "When he doesn't know what's going on, that makes it look bad for the district."
He noted that he is chairman of the board's facilities committee "and I know of no complaints about the floor" at Rupert, adding that the proper person to ask about that issue is the district's facilities manager Barry Angstadt.
"It's called not micromanaging," Hartman said. "It was a mistake, OK, I don't expect it to happen again."
For her part, Harris said the matter was an example of the dangers of putting stock in "hearsay."
To Weand, Harris said, "While you're getting your information from a blog, I was on the tour and there was no discussion about any historical anything. So I am amazed that you went to such great lengths to contact people who were not there when you have my information as well as Mr. Hylton's, and I don't know if you contacted him, but I know you did not contact me."
As the meeting concluded, school board President Rick Huss urged board members to "stop shooting bullets at each other. We've got to cut this crap off and stop bickering."