Ron Tomalis handed in his resignation to the state Department of Education Aug. 12 amidst allegations that he has been nothing more than a “ghost employee” since Gov. Tom Corbett named him the special adviser on higher education 14 months ago.
When Tomalis stepped down as the state’s education secretary in June 2013, he kept his $139,542 salary and worked primarily from a home office, but the only information documenting Tomalis’ work during the last year, as acquired by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette through Right-to-Know requests, included a handful of emails and a phone log that averages one call per day.
Acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq denied the ghost employee accusation, telling the Post-Gazette that the records could point to Tomalis’ preference for face-to-face communication.
Subsequent news reports during the last two weeks didn’t paint an improving picture regarding Tomalis and the Department of Education, with higher education officials at both Penn State University and University of Pittsburgh indicating they “don’t recall” any interaction with Tomalis since he stepped into his role as special adviser last year.
Government activist and state House candidate Gene Stilp accused Dumaresq of participating in an active cover-up of Tomalis’ employment status, citing an organizational chart that didn’t list Tomalis and an office that was said to have been used by Tomalis but which had no name plate on the door. A name plate was allegedly installed just days after the initial Post-Gazette story was published.
“If the Secretary of Education says that Ron Tomalis is working for her, where is his name on the chart?” Stilp wrote in an Aug.1 statement. “He must really be a ghost if he is not listed anywhere.”
The same day, Senate Education Committee Majority Chairman Mike Folmer, R- Lebanon, told the Post-Gazette he wanted the administration to “look into” the matter.
“This is taxpayers’ money, and we’ve got to make sure we’re spending taxpayers’ money the way it ought to be spent,” Folmer told the paper. “That’s where my concern lies. If he’s doing his job, OK, that’s wonderful, that’s great, that’s the way it should be. If not, maybe we should be looking at what’s up.”
In his resignation letter, Tomalis cited the mounting criticism against the department as a deciding factor in his decision to leave.
“I have been engaged in conversations with other organizations regarding new opportunities, and given recent events, I believe it is in the best interest of the Administration that I resign my position with the Commonwealth, effective August 26, 2014, to pursue those endeavors,” he wrote.
In a statement released Aug. 2, Dumaresq applauded Tomalis’ work on “several education initiatives,” including the Ready to Succeed Scholarship Program, the establishment of three Governor’s Schools and the Pennsylvania STEM competition, among others.
“Ron has truly been an asset to me and the department since I assumed the role of education secretary,” Dumaresq said. “He has been instrumental in overseeing the creation and re-establishment of important educational programs that benefit the students of the commonwealth. I wish him all the best.”
Corbett, who defended Tomalis against the ghost employee accusations in an Aug. 1 Post-Gazette article, continued his show of support after the resignation announcement.
“Ron has been committed to Pennsylvania’s education system since the early days of my administration,” he said. “He has worked closely with Secretary Dumaresq and the Department of Education to shape programs and policies that are in the best interest of students. I thank him for his work and commitment to education.”
–Christen Smith, Capitolwire