By Rick Rouan
POLAND — The athletic director hire that became a lightning rod for public discussion in Poland is at the heart of the school-board election, more than six months after the decision was finalized.
Incumbent candidates Frank Divito, 49, and Laura A. Stacy, 70, voted to hire Brian Banfield as athletic director in March. But challengers Larry Dinopoulos, 46, and Richard “Beau” Weaver, 49, said the decision typifies inconsistent hiring processes in the district.
The township will elect two members to the school board Nov. 3.
“They were sitting on the board when decisions I am uncomfortable with were made,” said Dinopoulos, a private-practice dentist.
The composition and number of people on committees to hire the athletic director and the Poland Seminary High School principal, Dinopoulos said, were inconsistent. He also contends that current board members thwarted public criticism of the athletic director hiring by moving public comment to the end of a meeting.
Weaver echoed the problems with communication. He said that the board is “very disconnected from its constituency.”
“Information doesn’t exactly flow from the Poland school board,” said Weaver, a sales executive with Hormel Foods.
But Divito, the incumbent board president, said that the board has clearly defined hiring procedures.
The superintendent chooses a search committee, and that committee makes a recommendation to either the principal or superintendent, who gives a recommendation to the board for vote, Divito said.
“As a school board, we let the people who run the school run the school,” he said, dispelling the idea that board members would railroad a candidate through the search committee and recommendation process.
Divito said that the athletic director search committee deadlocked, and Superintendent Robert Zorn recommended Banfield at a well-attended meeting. The board moved public comment to the end of that meeting because it had already reviewed Banfield’s qualifications and would not have been swayed, said Divito, the chief information officer at Jameson Health System.
Stacy declined a request for a Vindicator candidate interview but said in a questionnaire that she prioritizes providing the best opportunities for students by monitoring test scores and hiring strong personnel. Stacy is retired.
Both challengers also highlighted problems they have with the $2.02 million football stadium that was completed last summer.
Dinopoulos and Weaver said that the money invested in the stadium could have gone to academic programs and the construction of science labs, which have been pushed back because of a lack of funding.
“I’m by no means one of those people who puts athletics before academics,” said Divito, citing the addition of full-time counselors to deal with increases to the district’s population living below the poverty line.
The district planned to remodel high school science labs with about $45,000 it saved when Zorn retired and was rehired at a reduced salary in 2006, Divito said. It did, for three consecutive years: Poland Seminary High School had three of its five science labs gutted and fitted with new lab stations, cabinets and fixtures, but the district’s science department wanted bigger upgrades for the final two, Zorn said.
Those upgrades would cost about $65,000, so Zorn said the board deferred the project for a year to combine money saved on his salary for two years.
“The motion was never to cancel it,” Zorn said. “March 2010, it will be bid again.”
Divito said that his opponents were targeting him because he is the board president.
“They’re calling me a bully, and I’m not,” he said.