Baldwin-Whitehall school board member Martin Michael Schmotzer made a sad announcement at the board's regular meeting at the on Wednesday night, March 9. He has cancer.
"Let me tell you a little story," Schmotzer said, "because I don't want other people spinning it their way – in a malicious way.
"Last March, I went to get a physical, and it became obvious from the beginning of that physical that I had a health problem. In April, I gave up the presidency of the board to devote time to blood work and biopsies and things of that nature.
"It took about four months before I was diagnosed with two forms of cancer. One is operable, and the other is not. It took me about six more months of researching it to decide what I wanted to do, so in January, I decided to enter a treatment program for it, which will take another six months of serious treatment.
"I am incredibly tired in the evenings now – more so than ever before. I say that because, even though I vowed to run for school board again, the chances of me going through with that are 50-50 at best.
"Through the years, I have encouraged a lot of people to run for office. Whether I like you or not, it takes a lot of guts to put your names on the ballot and put yourselves out there, and for that, I admire everybody. When we had openings and vacancies on this board, there were a lot of incredibly talented people who came forth to serve on the board.
"I'm nothing more than a spoke in the wheel of life. Anybody who thinks they're that important, they truly are not. We're here to play a role and a bit role at that. There's a master plan for all of us.
"What decision I make, I will pray about and think about it for the next couple of weeks, but I just wanted to put it out there ahead of time, even though it's incredibly personal, the reason why I do what I do. And why people spin things the way they do is beyond me, but I've learned now not to waste my time worrying about things like that.
"If and when you ever find out that the clock starts ticking on you, your perspective in life will change." He paused briefly to gather his emotions.
"If I were young and handsome ... and you have your whole life ahead of you, then you have the time to be bothered by insignificant people. The older you get, the less time you have, and you do not. And really, you should never let people into your space to bother you as much as I have in my life. You should let it go and carry on your life and carry on toward the vocation of doing what's best when it's right."
Schmotzer said that he did not want to share the news of his cancer last year but that he felt that the time was right at this meeting. He also asked not to be questioned about the matter.
He said that he will complete his current term.
Schmotzer's comments about his health came during the last few minutes of the meeting. Though, he spent a large part of the meeting's earlier moments as part of a discussion with fellow board members and an audience member over whether or not to create a promotional video about the Baldwin-Whitehall school district.
The board eventually approved a motion, 7-2, to have Carrie On Communications and Don Gabany Film Production create the video in the form of a DVD – not to exceed $20,000 in production costs – but not before much deliberation.
Brian Rampolla, of 222 Southvue Drive, started that discussion by addressing the board as a district resident.
"In light of the [state-]budget situation," Rampolla said, "I really question authorizing up to $20,000 for that DVD. I question what kind of educational benefit it really has ...
"Dr. [Randal A.] Lutz, a couple of weeks ago, showed the [district's] PVAAS results, and we've got a number of 11th-graders who are scoring below basic [levels] on science. Perhaps, they're worthy of an investment of $20,000 to get their scores up, so I would really hope that this board votes that [motion to approve] down."
Lutz is the B-W school district's Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education. PVAAS refers to the Pennsylvania Value Added Assessment System.
Nancy Lee Crowder and Kevin A. Stiffey were the only two B-W board members to vote nay on the motion, also alluding to , which Corbett announced during an address to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on Tuesday, March 8.
"I'm not opposed to the DVD," Crowder said. "I'm opposed to spending the $20,000 at this time. I just don't feel this is the right time."
"I agree with the project, [but] I can't vote for it at this time," Stiffey said, "not with the budget that came down yesterday from state. I would like to see this [motion] come back after we do our budget, and I will support it then wholeheartedly.
"I support it now; I just can't feel comfortable spending the money until we find out where we're at with the numbers for this district."
Fellow board member John Schmotzer was one of its seven members to vote aye on the DVD project.
"I appreciate the gentleman [Rampolla] who got up and said that $20,000 could be spent elsewhere," John Schmotzer said. "We do not deprive education at all in this school district. Whatever it takes to educate our students properly and efficiently, that's what we try to do ...
"The $20,000 expenditure for this project is going to enhance this school district tremendously, and hopefully, increase the values of our properties within this district. There are a lot of senior citizens in the district, and there are a lot of homes up for sale. This district needs to sell itself. This district needs to have a vehicle that realtors can actually know what this school district is about and promote this school district to prospective homebuyers.
"This is what is the purpose of this $20,000 expenditure. It will be the best expense that this school district can make to promote this district, to promote the positives about this school district. And hopefully, when the senior citizens, for whatever reason, will have to sell their homes, young families are going to move into this district. And this district is going to survive for decades and decades.
"That is the purpose of it. I have been after this for the last probably eight years."
Board First Vice President Kevin J. Fischer joined John Schmotzer's side.
"I agree with my colleagues; it is tight," Fischer said. "Certainly, the governor is no friend to public education at the local level or, obviously, at the higher-education level with what he has proposed, and times will be challenging.
"That said, it's a challenge every year because of public tax dollars ... Is next year going to be any better to spend $20,000? I don't know. Is this [DVD] going to be a magic tool? I don't know. I don't have those answers, but we need to try.
"If we just sit back and want to budget for the only absolute necessity, we will not grow. Districts will pass us by. People will go to the districts where the expenditures are not only proper but they are [also] enhancing the district in every aspect ... In order to attract people here, these types of mechanisms and tools are needed. It has been long coming.
"While I share the concern, given what we see may be on the horizon, and we need to be cautious about that ... we also cannot just hole up in a shell because we will not go anywhere."
Board President George L. Pry also voted aye.
"You look at $20,000," Pry said. "It doesn't take more than a couple of students coming into this district to pay that.
"There is nobody who is tighter about a budget than I am ... but there's also the value of marketing. While I agree with my colleagues [in] wish[ing] there was a better time ... it seems like every time we do this, it's never a better time. Next week, there'll be another issue. The following month, there'll be another issue, and we'll continue to delay this."
B-W Superintendent Dr. Lawrence C. Korchnak, who does not vote on board decisions, said that his experience doing similar things in other school districts has been "an absolute success." Korchnak also pointed out that the district saved at least $20,000 by not paying a salary to .
After the board approved the DVD project, Rampolla addressed its members again and asked them to investigate ways to measure the projcet's effectiveness.
Rampolla also voiced his disagreement with a comment that Martin Schmotzer had made earlier in the meeting that the state's former governor – Ed Rendell – had provided enough funding to education in order to allow school districts to not raise taxes.
"[The funding] was provided for educational purposes," Rampolla said, "not for a tax cut."
Earlier in the meeting, Korchnak congratulated a number of B-W students who were honored with different awards and/or titles, starting with Caitlin Doyle, who recently served as a Junior Achievement Student Ambassador.
Korchnak then recognized a team from the district that captured first-place honors in the "Packet" category at a local Future Problem Solving Program International, Inc., competition: Nigel Armbruster, Callie Corcoran, Luke Dowker and Stephanie Pavlick.
Baldwin-Whitehall's team of Bianca DiNardo, Sarah Espy, Katherine Schmotzer and Tara Soukup earned first place in the "Creativity" category as part of that same competition, and that team was recognized as well.
Korchnak also recognized Joe Orsini as an honorable-mention winner in the Pittsburgh Public Theater's 2011 Shakespeare Monologue & Scene Contest before recognizing two teams of district students who placed first and second at a local Junior Achievement Titan of Business Challenge. Chris Cain, Tyler Green and Zane Podsobinski comprised the first-place team, and the team of Kevin Cass, Bianca DiNardo and Tyler Molnar placed second.
Also at this meeting, the district's 2011-12 school-year calendar was approved, as expected. The calendar will run from August 29 to June 8.
B-W Athletics Director Vince Sortino spoke at this meeting, and during his brief presentation of an overview of the district's Athletics department, emphatically denied rumors (at the prompting of Martin Schmotzer) that B-W's wrestling, gymnastics and swimming & diving programs are in danger of being discontinued.
Also, as , the B-W school district received final numbers for 's recently completed construction projects. The costs came in $2.8 million under budget.
Fischer announced that Steel Center Area Vocational Technical School is holding an open house on Thursday, March 24, from 6 to 9 p.m.
The next regular school board meeting will be held on Wednesday, April 13, at the school-district office at 7:30 p.m., but an agenda meeting will be held on Wednesday, April 6, also at the school-district office at 7:30 p.m.