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Ferry schools still looking for treasurer

T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK Martins Ferry City School Board Member Nick Stankovich, left, said Monday more interviews will be necessary before a new treasurer can be appointed. Superintendent Jim Fogle makes notes during business.

MARTINS FERRY — The Martins Ferry City Schools District Board of Education has narrowed the possibilities for district treasurer down to two candidates, and the board members will hold more interviews before deciding who will fill the role.

Board Members Brian McFarland, Bill Suto, Scott Ballint, continued the process of appointing a new treasurer Monday. Dorothy Powell was absent. They had met last week to conduct interviews with candidates including Logan Ballint, the assistant treasurer and son of Scott Ballint. Scott Ballint had been absent from last week’s meeting during Logan Ballint’s interview. The board has not said who the other candidate is. An independent facilitator will also participate in the interview process.

Chuck Probst, who was elected to the board Nov. 5, was also present. He will be taking Powell’s seat at the beginning of 2020.

The board met behind closed doors for matters of employment for about 15 minutes, and motioned to ask the Educational Service Center to recommend a third party to assist in the interviews. Probst was also asked to remain for the executive session.

McFarland suggested a third party.

“Everybody’s doing more than one round of interviews nowadays. We’ll bring somebody in with a fresh set of questions. Open-minded,” McFarland said.

After the meeting, Probst said he intended to remain involved an get “up to speed” in the next months before his swearing-in January.

“I’m just hoping to make a difference in the lives of our children in Martins Ferry,” he said. “I hope to help move the district forward from here.”

He could not comment on whether he might have a part in the interviewing process for the next treasurer.

“As things move forward, it could carry over into January,” he said. “(There are) many things do when new officials are elected. I’ll do my homework and put together all the information that I can to try to make an informed decision on the new treasurer.”

“We’re conducting interviews,” Suto said. “At the very next board meeting we’ll go into executive session. We’ll have our two candidates do the second round of interviews and make sure everyone has a good feeling on who we’re going to choose.”

He could not say if there might be a selection before 2020.

“Just trying to make sure we pick the right person,” Suto said.

The prior treasurer, Karen Blake, resigned in September, having been on paid leave for more than a year, but she will continue to draw her pay and benefits until Dec. 31, 2021. She earns $115,000 a year, not including benefits.

According to the agreement, Blake and the board agree to release each other from all liability and damages arising out of Blake’s employment. The agreement also specifies that Blake will hold the title of assistant treasurer, but that she will not be required to report for work. Blake had said that since beginning work in 2011 she had found improprieties in district operations.

In a later response statement, Fogle said Blake produced alleged improprieties after she was put on paid administrative leave and some of the alleged improprieties had already been provided to the district in the past, and investigated and found not to be improper. In many instances, Blake was not able to provide any substantiation for her allegations. Fogle said that, following receipt of the alleged improprieties in district operations, the Martins Ferry Board of Education submitted the allegations to and requested a formal review of the district’s finances by the Ohio Auditor’s office for the year ending June 30, 2018.

The district asked the state agency to determine if there were any significant internal control deficiencies, fraud, including noncompliance with government laws and regulations, and also abuse and noncompliance with grant agreements and contracts.

On May 29, 2019, the Ohio Auditor’s office reported five minor findings and concluded there were no identified deficiencies in internal control that they consider material weaknesses. However, “unidentified material weakness may exist,” the report stated.

The board’s statement said it had entered a resignation agreement with Blake before concluding its investigation into performance issues related to her duties. The decision was made to enter into an agreement to avoid the further cost of investigation and further disruption to the school’s operations while spending time conducting the investigation.

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