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Plum school board candidates pledge to turn district around

Michael DiVittorio
| Friday, Oct. 13, 2017, 12:51 p.m.
Plum school board candidates at Monday's forum: (from left) Tim Sandstrom, Amy Wetmore, Angela Anderson and Michelle Stepnick.
Michael DiVittorio
Plum school board candidates at Monday's forum: (from left) Tim Sandstrom, Amy Wetmore, Angela Anderson and Michelle Stepnick.
Michelle Stepnick
Submitted
Michelle Stepnick
Tim Sandstrom
submitted
Tim Sandstrom
Amy Wetmore
Submitted
Amy Wetmore
Angela Anderson
Submitted
Angela Anderson

Four of seven Plum school board candidates at a forum this week pledged fiscal responsibility, transparency and accountability as ways to improve the struggling district.

“I really believe that we need to be nine professionals working together, thinking outside the box, having conversations and making tough decisions that need to be made over the next several years,” Republican Angela Anderson said during the forum at the Plum Community Center. “That requires open communication.”

Anderson and Democrats Amy Wetmore, Tim Sandstrom and incumbent Michelle Stepnick participated in the event sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh.

Communication and professionalism were consistent themes throughout the night.

“I feel like there is a lot of dysfunction in the board that we have now,” Wetmore said. “We need a group of people who can find common ground, who can compromise and get done what needs to be done for our students.”

Candidates had about a minute each to respond to the same 12 questions presented by moderator and league Vice President Annette Shimer.

“It takes a lot of guts to run, and go out and meet the public,” Shimer told the school board hopefuls. “We recognize that being an elected official is going to take a great deal of personal effort, and we appreciate your willingness to undertake this effort.”

Question topics ranged from the budget, taxes, goals to improve the district, thoughts on a safety coordinator position that has not been filled for almost two years, and what qualities to look for in a superintendent.

The district has a projected $4 million deficit and may increase taxes next year. It failed to raise taxes for more than a decade and depleted its reserve funds.

Candidates talked about getting a grant writer and seeking additional revenue sources.

Stepnick, who is finance committee chair on the board, said she would not be in favor of any spending plan that included cuts to programs.

“We didn't get into this deficit overnight,” she said. “We're not going to get out of it overnight. As far as voting to cut programs or anything that has to do with hurting our children in anyway, I won't do it.”

Sandstrom said if taxes must be raised, so would fees to rent district facilities.

“If I'm going to ask my 82-year-old mother-in-law to pay more in taxes, I'm going to ask everyone who uses a school facility to pay more,” said Sandstrom. “The hurt has to be for everybody.”

Plum struggled through a scandal involving teachers jailed for having sex with students, and the board recently approved an $184,000 severance package for now former Superintendent Tim Glasspool. A nationwide search is underway for Glasspool's replacement.

Candidates said a superintendent must show leadership, have a great reputation, a vision to move education forward and understand the community.

“The next superintendent probably has the hardest job in America, coming into the Plum School District,” said Sandstrom. “What might work in New York City or Ten Sleep, Wyoming, may not be the answer or solutions here in Plum.”

The safety coordinator position was approved in February 2016, but there were setbacks. The board interviewed potential hires this year before the majority of the board in August decided it wasn't necessary to fill the position.

Candidates said the district's financial problems make that decision the right one, though they all added they would like to see the return of a second school resource officer that was eliminated this year. They also agreed custodial services, bus drivers and other staff positions should not be outsourced.

About 30 people were in the audience at the forum. Candidates Scott Coulson and Brian Wisniewski, both on the Republican ticket, were absent. Scott Kolar, who will be on both ballots, also did not attend the forum. Coulson and Wisniewski did not return calls seeking comment after the forum. A number for Kolar was disconnected.

Chairwoman Judy Clark said Kolar informed the League he would not be attending because he was at the last forum before the primary. She said she did not hear back from the other candidates who missed the forum.

The league is sponsoring a forum at the center at 7 p.m. Oct. 23 featuring Plum council, mayor and Allegheny County Council District 8 candidates.

Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2367, mdivittorio@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MikeJdiVittorio.

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