By Matt Popchock
Former Gateway School Board president and current Monroeville mayor Greg Erosenko has attempted to deflect some recent criticism by affirming his support for embattled Gateway head football coach Terry Smith.
Many in the community remain angry Smith’s coaching job will be opened up after the 2012 season, and that his concurrent status as athletic director was reduced to part-time, per an 8-1 vote by the board July 11.
Some Monroeville sources believe Erosenko, a close friend of Dave Magill, the incumbent Gateway School Board president, once plotted to remove Smith while he presided over the board 2006-10. These same sources contend that Erosenko, who is up for re-election this fall, influenced the board’s decision for political reasons.
However, in a one-on-one interview I conducted with the mayor earlier this week, he politely refuted the information I originally presented, and insisted he has nevery had any axe to grind with the 11th-year coach. When asked, Erosenko characterized his working relationship with Smith as “excellent.”
Wherein lies the truth? We’ll simply let the reader decide. Linked here is the story in question, which highlighted the claims against Erosenko, and here are excerpts of what Erosenko said in response:
Q: What was your initial reaction to what these people had to say?
A: Well, first of all, let me just make it clear what my role is: I have no role. (laughs) Think about this…I work up there with [city] council, and we have a budget and issues too. If you think in your wildest dreams that I would allow or even want someone from the school board telling us what we should do, or how we should go about it, that doesn’t even make sense. They don’t know anything about our own budget, or anything about our issues.
Q: What is your relationship with some of the figures mentioned in the original story?
A: (Public works superintendent) Mike Adams isn’t involved. He’s never even met Terry Smith, never shook hands with him one time. He’s so far removed from the political arena it’s a joke. He called me [when he saw your original story] and asked me what’s going on. I told him I got run over by the same bus he did.
As for Mitch Adams (Mike’s brother, who serves as Gateway boys’ basketball head coach), I haven’t really talked to him except maybe one or two times in the last three years. When the basketball team won the WPIAL championship, I helped him raise money to get them their championship rings…the school board wouldn’t give them that. I raised them about $2,000 to get those rings.
Q: Speaking of which, some of the residents we’ve heard from say that department has a lot of political clout. Is that true?
A: That is not true. Maybe at one time it did, but that was the old guard, and they’re all gone. Most of my guys are young guys, and in this economy, they’re just happy they have jobs. They’re just a bunch of guys and gals who want to do the job for Monroeville, and they do a damn good one. I know, in the political world, no matter what I do, it’s not always going to stop people from saying public works has all this authority. They do not. Not in my opinion, anyway.
Q: We understand you met with a number of Smith’s supporters recently. What was the nature of that meeting?
A: I met with them for an hour and a half, as they asked me if I would sit and talk with them. Once again, bear in mind, I have zero authority here. Am I good friends with Dave Magill? Yes I am. Am I friends with most of the school board? Yes I am. But I assure you I don’t get involved in their business…because I’m up to my eyeballs in my own stuff. I think this has to do with their budget, or at least that’s my own understanding, and Terry certainly seems to think it’s something else. Local residents think it’s politics, maybe even racial. But I don’t get involved in that. Never have. I know he brought that program from its knees to where it is today…but I don’t even know three of the last four school board presidents who have been elected.
I convinced them this wasn’t just about Terry, and said they also need to look at the math lab that was cut, the technologies program that was cut, and that class sizes need to be reduced for some of these teachers. I encouraged them not to stop [pressuring] the school district, but also to keep our feet to the fire, including mine, at the municipal level.
Q: One of those concerned residents was Tammy Richardson, a Gateway parent with whom we spoke last week. At the time she wanted to know the status of a large check that had supposedly been donated to cover Smith’s full-time salary. What did she have to say?
A: She told me the same thing. You and I can donate to any school district, but, as I told Tammy, the one caveat is…you have to deal with pensions, unemployment…I don’t know if there are legal ramifications there. She said she had a couple attorneys working with her, so I suggested she talk to them. To be honest, I don’t know anything about [how such donations can be channeled]. But I know there’s a lot more to that than meets the eye.
Q: From your point of view, did Smith have more friends than enemies when you were on the board?
A: In my opinion, he had the support of the entire board, and the community, when I was there. I’m actually surprised Gateway has kept him this long without a college football program snapping him up.
Q: How would you describe your working relationship with Mr. Magill?
A: When I was on the board he and I never had any issues, though, since I became mayor, I’ve been out of that loop. Again, I have nothing against Terry Smith, and no idea where any of this came from. Dave and the other board members could tell you a lot more about what’s been going on there financially, but my understanding is a lot of it has to do with Governor Corbett’s budget. I was part of a symposium with nine senators in regards to his education cuts. I’ve tried to get the community fired up in favor of myself and (state) Senator (Jim) Brewster, because this is my issue. These kids are our future, and we’re just going to cut them out? It doesn’t make sense.
Q: What would be your all-encompassing message to residents–and registered voters–who want to see Smith prosper there, and coach there well into the foreseeable future?
A: My opinion is, sit down with your school board. Sit down with these officials, without yelling or screaming. Line up your information, sit down, and present your case. As far as Terry goes, there’s no issue between me and him. But I’m not going to remotely comment on whether he should or should not be full-time. I don’t know those issues, and I’m not going to kid you about that.
Special thanks to the mayor’s office for providing access. As always, stick with us for any new developments in this story, and in the meantime, we’ll soon be moving forward with our preseason coverage of the 2012 WPIAL football season, so stay tuned for that as well.
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)