Critics Ponder What Pennsylvania Education Advisor’s Job Is

A Harrisburg activist has asked the Philadelphia Ethics Commission to investigate whether Ron Tomalis, one-time education adviser to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, is doing his job.

Tomalis is now a special adviser to the governor, and activist Gene Stilp wants to know if  he is earning his $140,000 salary and benefits that he continues to make even though he is no longer the governor’s education secretary, write Angela Couloumbis and Gideon Bradshaw of  The Philadelphia Inquirer.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Tomalis’ work calendar had weeks of very little or no work logged, a scant number of phone calls, and very few emails.  There was also little interaction with universities and higher education agencies.  Some of this information was found through the state’s Right-to-Know law.

The Corbett administration defends Tomalis by assuring naysayers that he comes to work everyday.  They also say that the position has evolved due to lack of funding. The main objective for his position was ” implementing a program under which Pennsylvania colleges meet performance-based targets to win new state funding.” Now he is assigned the tasks of:

• Reviving the Governor’s Schools, a competitive summer program for high school students

• Overseeing  Ready to Succeed, a scholarship program for low- and middle-income students

Pennsylvania is struggling to increase college access and keep rising tuition costs down, says Bill Schackner, writing for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  Yet, a number of higher education key players say they have not had contact with Mr. Tomalis since he was named special adviser.

These included Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon County), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, and Rep. James Roebuck (D- Philadelphia), top-ranked Democrat on the House Education Committee.  Although the Post-Gazette had an appointment to speak with Tomalis and Acting Education Secretary Carol Dumaresq, Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller told the Post-Gazette that they would like to choose the reporter who would conduct the interview, and the newspaper declined.

Later , in an interview with Dumaresq and a reporter of her choice, she defended Tomalis.

“Obviously, he’s kept a very low profile,” she added. “Maybe that should change.”
“The important thing is whether in fact people are working and working hard and producing,” she said. “And Ron is.”

In an ongoing case related to the investigation of how Penn State handled allegations of sexual abuse during the Jerry Sandusky child molestation case, the State Department of Education is asking the Commonwealth Court to overturn a decision that would release emails of Louis Freeh, who conducted a controversial investigation. ‘

Ryan Bagwell, an alumnus, runs the Penn State Sunshine Fund and is handling several open cases in his search for open records related to the school, says Anna Orso, reporter for The Patriot News.

The Department of Education claims the emails Bagwell wants to see are protected by attorney-client privilege. In the emails, former secretary of education,  Tomalis, state deputy general counsel James Schultz, and then-general counsel Steven Aichele, are apparently discussing investigative firms for the university to hire after the scandal.  Because Tomalis was then secretary of education, he served as a Penn State Trustee, as did Gov. Tom Corbett.

Penn State hired Freeh’s group and, in the end,  its report said that three former administrators and coach Joe Paterno knowingly covered up the child sexual abuse.    This met with some consternation from those who thought the investigator, Louis Freeh, did not do his due diligence.

The department says that since an email from Tomalis to Freeh investigators was titled “Attorney Recommendations” they shouldn’t have been made public.  However, Tomalis wrote trustee Ken Frazier and told him he had “reviewed the names prior to forwarding them to John Surma earlier in the week”, thereby eliminating attorney-client privilege.

The 2002 graduate, Bagwell,  is asking for communications between Tomalis and Freeh investigators. Penn State was opposed to this request.  Oral arguments are scheduled to begin in September.

Thursday
07 31, 2014
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