Appeals filed against school district in court

After the Montoursville Area School Board voted against the superintendent’s suggestion to fire its long-time technology coordinator, the employee argues he then was demoted, given a pay cut and burdened with unreasonable job expectations to force a resignation.

Paul Smith is appealing two school district decisions in Lycoming County Court regarding over $20,000 he said he’s entitled to while being investigated and the alleged demotion that followed the decision to keep him on staff.

Smith was hired by the district in 1996. On Aug. 25, 2017, Superintendent Christina Bason placed Smith on paid administrative leave pending investigation into “IT related matters that affect the overall district operation,” according to one of two appeals filed.

The appeals stress that in the two decades between Smith being hired and being placed on leave, he had no disciplinary history and recently was rated proficient in a performance evaluation.

Bason’s investigation into Smith’s work performance began after a virus attack on the district’s server beginning late last summer. Smith and other technology employees started receiving information from other district employees who were getting locked out of their accounts beginning on Aug. 16, 2017.

A day later Smith emailed Bason and Intermediate Unit 17 about the system virus that was attempting to steal passwords, according to the appeals.

That same day, Smith implemented a plan to remove the virus over the course of a few days but said additional work still was needed.

Over the weekend of Aug. 19, 2017, Smith discovered that the computer server housing the district’s anti-virus software had been turned off. After turning it back on, the intermediate unit took over the incident and had to completely replace the corrupted software.

During a board meeting, Bason accused Smith of not following the proper notification protocol during the virus incident.

Nearly three weeks after Smith was placed on paid leave, Bason placed him on unpaid leave and told him that she “will recommend that the (board) dismiss you from employment as a non-professional employee of the district,” according to the documents.

The district’s case included eight main allegations, mostly rooted in the virus issue. All of them accused Smith of “willful violation of the rules” or “poor work performance.”

The board held hearings on Oct. 16 and 19 and Nov. 15, 2017. During the November hearing, four charges were dropped because Smith didn’t receive a required pre-determination hearing, according to the documents.

Disagreeing with Bason’s suggestion, the board made the decision to keep Smith on Dec. 5, 2017. But the board’s decision didn’t mention anything about the $20,234 Smith would have made during the three months he was on unpaid leave.

Following the district’s decision denying Smith the back-pay, he appealed. Two days later, Bason said she would be reshaping Smith’s job description because it was outdated as written.

The new job description included a pay cut from $3,000 bi-weekly to $2,867, the loss of benefits and no longer being entitled to paid health insurance through age 65. Bason also stated that Smith now would be required to become certified as an educational specialist and obtain a master’s degree in information technology at his expense. The appeal regarding the demotion said the degree would take several years to complete and cost upwards of $20,000. Smith also argues that the new job description was remodeled into something that didn’t meet his actual job duties.

The new job title includes a demotion from a supervisory-level employee to an assistant and eliminates functions Smith has performed proficiently for over 21 years, according to the documents.

“The actions by the MASD superintendent are part of a campaign by her (Bason) to retaliate against (Smith) for the professional embarrassment she suffered as a result of the adjudication by making Smith’s conditions of employment so punishing, burdensome and embarrassing in an effort to coerce his resignation.”

Bason did not respond to requests for comment.

A hearing for the district’s motion to deny the first appeal regarding Smith’s back-pay is scheduled for mid-March.