Montoursville School District employee fights job demotion at hearing

IOANNIS PASHAKIS/ Sun-Gazette Paul Smith, technology coordinator for Montoursville Area School Board, leaves a meeting room during a five minute break where a hearing was held on Thursday to decide if the district's superintendent attempted to force him into resignation.

When Paul Smith was demoted in his job at the Montoursville Area School District, the long-time technology coordinator fought back, filing an appeal against the school board’s decision that included a pay cut.

On Thursday, a lengthy public hearing before the school board revealed many of the actions that led to his demotion.

Much of the hearing involved arguments between the attorneys for each side involving Smith’s job title and the duties he was expected to perform with his work.

Smith, employed by the district since 1996, was placed on paid leave by District Superintendent Christina Bason in August 2017 pending an investigation into “IT related matters that affect the overall district operations,” according to one of two appeals filed.

That investigation followed a virus attack on the district’s server beginning late in the summer of 2017.

During a 2017 school board meeting, Bason accused Smith of not following the proper notification protocol during the virus attack.

He was eventually placed on unpaid leave and recommended by Bason for dismissal from employment as a non-professional employee of the district, according to documents.

The board held three hearings in October and November. During the last hearing, four charges were dropped because Smith didn’t receive a required pre-determination hearing, according to documents.

The board in December made a decision to keep Smith, disagreeing with Bason’s recommendation that he be dismissed from his job. The board did, however, deny the back pay he lost while on unpaid suspension.

Smith earlier this year won an appeal to be restored of that money amounting to $20,234.

Following the board’s decision, Smith was advised his job description would be reshaped because it was outdated as written. In order to keep his job he would have to attain a master’s degree at his own expense.

At Thursday’s hearing, his attorney, Elliott Strokoff, said it was simply a lie that Smith needed to be certified to stay in his job.

All that had to be done, he argued, was to delete some of the language from the job description.

Instead, Smith was demoted from a supervisory-level employee to an assistant, which included a pay cut from $3,000 bi-weekly to $2,867 as well as loss of benefits.

“The goal was not to improve education but to coerce him to quit his job,” Strokoff argued.

Under questioning from attorney Michael Levin, Smith admitted he had no special certifications for his job. Nor, he later testified, did he did believe he needed those certifications.

Smith said he had always been a supervisor, but not an educator, which, it was argued, would require certification.

Testimony included whether Smith’s job title was technology coordinator or in fact education technology coordinator.

Levin noted that he was not certified for either job description.

“The job he had was as technology coordinator,” he said. “His contention that he was demoted is based on a lie.”

Levin asked Smith if, in fact, his job description had been changed and approved by the board back in 2003.

Smith said he did not recall such action.

The board said it will eventually decide on the matter.