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Pittston Area board passes on reinstating demoted school official

Members of the Pittston Area School Board publicly debated reinstating Dr. Janet Donovan. The former principal for curriculum says she was demoted after refusing to "play ball" with a corrupt ex-superintendent.
Yatesville, Luzerne County- There have been continuous delays in reinstating a Pittston Area principal who claims she was ousted from the district's central office for refusing to do business with an ex-superintendent who spent time in jail for influencing the rewarding of a contract in the district.

Turns out giving Dr. Janet Donovan her job may cost some school board members embarrassment. Meanwhile, other board members have repeatedly raised the subject, forcing a vote on the issue a few times in as many months.

The motion to reinstate Donovan failed in a 5-to-4 vote.

"I know Dr. Donovan is tired of hearing no," said board president Charles Sciandra. "I'm sorry, it's not the right time, so I would say no."

Returning Donovan to the position of curriculum principal would undo decisions in August where the board majority said her removal wasn't a demotion, but due solely because the post was no longer funded in the budget. Board members on Tuesday became entangled in discussion over funding the position. Robert Linksey argued the funding still existed while others said the money was gone. "(Superintendent) Dr. (Michael) Garzella has spoken over, and over, and over," Linskey said. "He wants that position. Dr. Donovan is the person for the position. What are we waiting for?"

Eyewitness News has been unable to independently confirm if the position was removed from the 2012-2013 budget. Financial paperwork previously reviewed does not identify specific changes to personnel. Separately, board member Marilyn Starna was critical of the lack of budget meetings. The district is expected to run an apparent $2 million deficit for 2013-2014.

In January, a district accountant requested 60 days to review figures and recommend what action the board should take concerning Donovan. Board members say a recommendation was never made.

Donovan's story exposed an ongoing and continuing relationship between Pittston Area school leaders and a superintendent who was caught by the FBI. Dr. Ross Scarantino pleaded guilty and spent a year in jail.

Donovan and previous administrators, including former superintendent George Cosgrove, said Scarantino exerted intense pressure district staff members, including Donovan, to recommend a reading curriculum program. Donovan said Scarantino called her as many as 30 times one day. Wilkes-Barre Area Superintendent Dr. Jeff Namey confirmed Scarantino had been working with an Allentown-based company called Step By Step Learning. Namey said Scarantino had lobbied Wilkes-Barre Area to engage in business with Step By Step Learning. On the night two U.S. Secret Service agents hand-delivered a number of subpoenas Wilkes-Barre Area, school directors voted to approve a deal with Step By Step Learning. Calls to the company's president, Mike Grabarits, were never returned.

An attorney for Scarantino previously declined comment.

Donovan granted a brief interview following Tuesday's board meeting. Asked if she wanted to return to the position of director of curriculum, she responded: "Yes, I do. And I offered to do both positions." Donovan said she was continuing to review her legal options and declined further comment.

While the school board majority has publicly stated Donovan's demotion was purely based on financial grounds, sources in August claimed at least two board members had heavily influenced the decision to remove her from the central office. Sciandra denied any board member acted inappropriately, even though he previously acknowledged having worked years ago with Step By Step Learning president Mike Grabarits. "The initial moves we made were financial moves," Sciandra said. "And they were recommendations made by the previous administration that we accepted."

Click here to read the story from August

Superintendent Dr. Michael Garzella said the district hasn't netted the amount of grants it would have had if Donovan was still principal of curriculum.
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