Montoursville building project costs, legal fees cause friction

A change of venue for the Montoursville Area School Board’s monthly meeting from the usual high school setting to Loyalsock Valley Elementary School on Tuesday failed to squelch the anger of citizens and school directors upset with building project costs and legal fees.

Board member William Ruffing sat during the entire meeting with a sign before him scrawled with the number $416,164.

He claimed that figure represents the total dollars the district has spent for additional costs tied to the suspension of the high school construction and renovation project.

Business Manager Brandy Smith said the amount includes about $42,000 spent by the district in legal fees over efforts to suspend the project last year.

Ruffing said he will continue to show up at meetings with a sign updating residents on ever-escalating costs.

Scott Metzger was among several residents who spoke during the meeting.

“There is so much money being wasted here,” he said.

He called for the board to stop the bickering and backroom deals and begin making sound financial decisions.

District resident Sue Masley asked the board what it plans to do with the historic 1931 section of the high school. Earlier this year, the board voted to keep that historic part of the high school in place, despite structural problems that forced its closure earlier this year.

“What are you willing to spend on that until you say enough is enough?” she asked.

Ruffing also questioned what it will cost to maintain the structure.

Earlier in the meeting, Ruffing questioned the amount of legal fees paid this year to district solicitor Benjamin Landon.

“We are approaching $30,000 in 11 months,” he said.

At one point, he asked for a suspension on the most recent payment for legal fees.

Board member William McCleary took issue with Ruffing, referring to the bills for legal costs as legitimate. He accused Ruffing of harassing Landon.

“This is taxpayer dollars, not harassing,” Ruffing said.

A motion to suspend the payment was rejected 4-2 by the board.

Voting no were McCleary, George Hagemeyer, Karen Wright and Ronald Snell. Voting yes were Ruffing and Scott Konkle. Robert Logue, Denise Johns and Jennifer Marriott were absent for the vote.

Later in the meeting, McCleary and Hagemeyer produced signed affidavits claiming they knew nothing about a $100 donation Landon made last year to Common Sense school board candidates who vowed to suspend the building project.

Ruffing said it was “common knowledge” that those candidates voted at their first meeting as seated school directors to give Landon the job of district solicitor and fired his longtime predecessor, Fred Holland.

“You publicly humiliated Mr. Holland,” Ruffing said. “It’s on the record.”

In other matters, Superintendent Christina Bason noted the alarming shortage of teachers across the state. She reported there has been a significant drop in students majoring in education.

The statistics reveal a critical problem for all districts, she said.

The board will meet again Dec. 6 for its annual reorganization meeting.