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School board races offer a few surprises

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

By Jane Elizabeth, Post-Gazette Education Writer

Many area school board seats were essentially decided with the May primary election. Still, there were some twists and surprises in a few school districts last night. Here's a look at some key races, based on preliminary results last night.

Newcomer Louis A. DeFabio II knew early in the evening that he wouldn't have enough votes to win a seat on the Plum school board, where eight candidates ran for five seats.

"That's OK," DeFabio said last night."I learned a lot. I don't know if I'll do it again but it was an experience."

DeFabio was endorsed by the district's Democrats, as was incumbent Tom McGough, who won his seat.

Republicans took four of the five seats in the largely Democratic Plum School District -- Susan Caldwell, incumbent Jeff Matthews, Dan Lioy and Paul Olijar.

DeFabio said he ran for the board because of his background in accounting and management, and his volunteer work in Plum borough. He holds a bachelor's degree in accounting and a master's of business administration in finance.

Matthews also cited finances as a prime reason for running for school board. He said during the campaign that the district needed to "practice better fiscal responsibility."

He is an investment officer.

In Montour School District, six seats were open but only one seat was contested -- and last night's apparent loser said she likely will contest the results.

Michelle Bittner lost to incumbent Patricia Kaufman by 40 votes, according to preliminary results. Kaufman was appointed to fill a board vacancy nine months ago.

"It was very close. We did a lot of work," said Bittner, a Republican who was supported by the Montour Taxpayers Organization. "We thought we would have done better."

On Sunday, the taxpayers organization declared "Michelle Bittner Day" with plans to canvass the entire Kennedy region. The group had supported Bittner's platform of fiscal accountability and anti-nepotism.

The other Montour school directors were unopposed and will take their seats next month. They are Charlie Snowden, Patricia Lee, Deborah Carr, Lawrence Tomei and Joseph Sanko.

Chartiers Valley
When Jeff Choura didn't get his re-election papers into the school district on time, he was denied a chance to appear on the Democrats' May primary ballot for Chartiers Valley School Board.

But by filing as an Independent -- a party not represented in the primary -- he was allowed to appear on the general election ballot where he was one of six candidates for the district's five seats.

Still, he lost his bid, according to last night's prelimary results.

The new board members are: Jeff Hilty, Patti Frey, Patti Figorski, Tony Moses and Mary Lou Petronsky.

In Avonworth School District, where the school board has been often contentious for the last four years, board members officially will be replaced.

All of the incumbents up for reelection -- Jack Connors, Susan Abramowich, Betsy Radcliffe, Gary Short and Michael Mohr -- decided not to seek reelection.

Now five new candidates, selected in the spring primary and who remained uncontested in the general election, will take the open seats. They are Avonworth teacher Peter Domencic, Brenda Barlek of Ohio Township, Peter McKay of Ben Avon, Robert Wible of Ohio Township, and Mary Beth Sommers.

Penn Hills
In Penn Hills, the lone Democratic candidate running for school board, will join a slate of four Republicans on the board next month.

Leonard Gallo, who had served previously on the school board, defeated newcomer Tim Rogers, who was running as a Republican. Incumbent Sara Werner will begin her seventh term and Kathryn Bolte her third term.

Also winning Penn Hills school board seats were Margie Krogh and Richard Vuocolo, both of whom previously served on the board.

North Hills
Early returns last night indicated that newcomers Mark Kasperowicz and Jeff Meyer are the newest members of the North Hills School board. Incumbents Al Barkley, Arlene Bender and Edward Wielgus also won seats.

Kasperowicz, a Democrat, said he brings a finance background to the position. "I am going to bring financial responsibility to the board," he said.

Wielgus, who crossfiled with both parties, said wants to continue technology improvements while maintaining fiscal harmony. Addressing rumors that elementary schools in the district might close, he said, "I want to keep neighborhood schools open. I am not in favor of closing down elementary schools."

Republican incumbent Sylvia Lynn lost her reelection bid, but could be considered for an upcoming two-year seat appointment.

Two of the three incumbents were unsuccessful in their re-election bid for the Peters Township School Board.

Elaine Webb was voted off the board, finishing last in the field of six candidates running for five open seats. Current school board president Thomas McMurray finished just ahead of Webb.

Newcomer Sandra Theodori was the top vote-getter, followed by incumbent Mark Buzzato and Jeff Yingling who finished in a virtual dead-heat. Allison McClure finished fourth.

After the results were in, Buzzato, who has recently been at odds with many of the current directors, said he believed that the voters had their say about the state of the school district.

"There were some issues that the voters were concerned about," Buzzato said, "and the current board wasn't addressing them."

Cheers erupted in the basement of Democratic incumbent school board member Peggy Bell's home when final numbers came in indicating that four of five Democrats were winners of seats on the Moon Area School Board.

Bell and fellow incumbents Mary Tobin and Mark Scappe were reelected, as was newcomer Lisa Wolowicz.

Barbara Nolfi was the lone Republican elected.

"The winners are ecstatic but exhausted. This was physically emotionally and spiritually draining," Tobin said.

Wolowicz said, "I worked very hard for this and I'm very, very proud to be elected."

With disagreements on construction and renovation of district schools, the contest was intense and victories last night appeared narrow.

Retired teacher Lenora Karpa lost her bid to be the newest member of the Sto-Rox School Board last night, and two of the winners her former students.

Kevin Kochirka and Julia Ann Vasselo finished ahead of the former Sto-Rox High School teacher.

The other winners were Raymond Puskar, Donna Parrilla and John Karpa. The six candidates vied for five seats on the board.

Darlene Abbott last night won a seat on the Cornell Area School Board -- a seat that she didn't want.

She had won the Democratic and Republican nominations in the May primary, but then said she was too busy with work to serve as a school board member.

So she's spent recent weeks asking residents not to vote her into one of the district's five vacant four-year seats.

However, according to preliminary results, she finished fourth in a field of six candidates.

Abbott could not be reached last night for comment.

This article was written by Post-Gazette education writer Jane Elizabeth based on the reporting of Post-Gazette staff writers Monessa Tinsley, Judy Laurinatis and Ann Belser.

Jane Elizabeth can be reached at or 412-263-1510.

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