East Penn Press

Monday, June 1, 2020

EAST PENN SCHOOL DISTRICT Asbestos specialist assures district no one in danger at Wescosville Elementary School

Wednesday, September 24, 2014 by PETER MCCONNELL Special to The Press in Local News

The removal and possible legal ramifications of construction debris recently found buried on the Wescosville Elementary School lot still dominate discussion among East Penn School District's Board of Directors.

Though the item did not appear on the formal agenda Sept. 22 it arose among other usual business items and in public comment. Citizen Giovanni Landi expressed his disappointment anybody would dump garbage on the property, as well as his disappointment in the district and school administration for not reporting it to the police at the time.

Landi in his comments also suggested the board had held private discussion on the matter prior to the Sept. 8 board meeting and the board might have been trying to conceal the burial of waste material.

Later in the meeting Board Director Wally Vinovskis said the board had reacted as quickly as possible after being informed of the situation. The board voted to approve a contract for removal of the material at the last public meeting, the earliest possible date to take public action as a board.

Board Director Lynn Donches used the matter at hand to again raise the need for greater transparency in public action by way of tracking accounting codes. Donches, who consistently refuses to cast a vote on the bill list at each meeting, repeated her belief that enclosing a report of detailed check codes with the bill list would provide information useful to her and possibly other board members in making a decision about approving disbursement of payments.

In this case, Donches described how two checks issued on Dec. 9, 2013 were used to pay for the burial of waste material at Wescosville Elementary. Because the more detailed accounting codes were not included in the bill list, no one saw just what those checks paid for.

"It will take some time to get back people's trust," Donches said.

Board Director Kevin Bacher countered just a few accounting codes took over an hour of staff time to compile based on a request Donches sent in, as she does regularly. To compile the codes for every check would be time consuming in proportion to this and other board members have historically expressed similar opinions.

The cost of removing the dumped material will be less than $18,000, as was later confirmed by Board Chair Alan Earnshaw. Donches inquired of her fellow board members why this amount should be placed on the district's bill and by extension the taxpayers instead of initiating an investigation that might find and penalize the individuals who committed the act in the first place.

Earnshaw has stated previously even if the district knew who had done it, the cost of legal fees might easily be greater than the cost of removing the material. He said Monday night there would be "no guarantee" of the district prevailing in a civil suit and called it "high risk" and "imprudent" to pursue that direction.

Donches questioned why the Department of Environmental Protection and the Environmental Protection Agency had not been contacted to conduct an investigation. Charles Ballard said in his understanding DEP actually declined to do an investigation. An EPA agent will be present at the site during exhumation of the debris to ensure everything is done in compliance with regulations. An asbestos specialist has assured the district no children or others on the site were in any danger at any time of asbestos exposure.

Superintendent Dr. Michael Schilder in his final comments said, "I've said all I can say. I'm not interested at all in identifying who made the mistakes or making this a bigger deal than it really is.…I'm comfortable with the decision that has been made."

Schilder said referring to the debris as hazardous material is an exaggeration and pointed out asbestos is present in many homes still in the region and brings no harm to anyone as such.

In other business, Schilder gave a brief transportation update reporting on some problems persisting with Student Transportation of America, Inc. The superintendent said at the time he was writing this update the week before the meeting, there were growing concerns with STA's ability to provide satisfactory service. Since then some personnel changes have been enacted at STA and Schilder says improvements have already begun to appear within the last few days.

Among problems listed, Schilder mentioned some buses are still arriving late at pick-up due to Wednesday early dismissal at Seven Generations; telephone calls and emails were not being returned promptly; and driver shortages.

After noting these issues, Schilder said some had already been addressed by the time of the board meeting and he is increasingly encouraged by the recent resolution of problems without what he called a ripple effect: problems are being solved without leading to new ones.

In addition to these discussions the board took action in approving standard expenditures and changes to personnel.