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Leechburg Area School Board race attracts almost 1,000 write-in votes

| Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013, 2:06 a.m.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
The election result tapes hang on the siding outside of the Leechburg Volunteer Fire Department on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013.

With four candidates on the ballot for four open seats, the Leechburg Area School Board race seemed a formality.

Until almost 1,000 write-in votes shook the landscape.

Elected to the board on Tuesday, based on unofficial results, were current President Jean Stull, former members Kathryn Vargo and Terri Smith, and newcomer Megan Hamm.

Ballot candidates Stull, Vargo and Smith bring a combined 12 years of board experience to the table.

Hamm, who won the final seat in a narrowly contested write-in campaign, is trying her hand in elective office for the first time.

“I think a lot of people voted for me as a write-in because I don't come into it with any hidden agendas,” she said. “I just wanted to come in with fresh eyes and help build our students' future.”

Hamm garnered 471 votes to edge fellow write-in candidate and current board member Jeremy Smail.

Smail came 62 votes shy of retaining the seat he was appointed to in September following then-president Terry Knepshield's resignation.

Both Smail and Hamm garnered more votes than ballot candidate Chuck Pascal, who served on the board from 1987 to 2003.

Pascal decided to run with Vargo and Smith earlier this year when Stull was the only candidate on the ballot. He said he feared for the future of the board should residents with a handful of write-in votes be elected.

“You never know what kind of crazy outcome those types of elections can have,” he said. “I didn't want the school district to suffer because of a lack of candidates.”

Once he saw the “caliber of the people running write-in campaigns,” Pascal said he began asking people to refrain from voting for him.

“I was willing to do it if no one else was,” he said, “but I don't have the time or effort to give the district what it deserves.”

Pascal received 385 votes.

Stull decisively earned her seat with 815 votes. That's 230 more than second-place Vargo and 278 more than Smith.

Neither Smith nor Vargo could be reached for comment.

Stull believes a significant portion of voters chose her based on her board experience and reputation as a Leechburg businesswoman. The mother of two works as an accountant on Market Street.

“I think people see me as an honest person and know that I try do to what is right,” she said. “That, and my name appeared first on the ballot.”

Since Stull took over as president, the board has approved new contracts for the district's teachers and cafeteria staff. The negotiating experience might prove useful this month when the board works to install a new superintendent.

“That's the top order of business right now,” Stull said. “That decision has such a drastic impact on the community, and I'm glad to be one of the people that helps make it.”

Write-ins affect other races

The Avonmore mayoral race on Tuesday was wide open with no candidates on the ballot.

The position went to Barbara Desimore, who received 94 votes. Ludwig Sharek was her closest opponent with 55.

Write-in candidates also filled two of the borough's three open council seats.

Raymond Bussard earned 90 write-in votes, which was matched by the only ballot candidate, Thomas Bellotti.

Gary Skovenski won the final seat with 82 votes. Runner-up Cheryl Smith fell six votes short.

In North Apollo, three residents were elected to council from an empty ballot.

Laura Ford and Deborah Stankus ran away with the election with 109 and 107 votes, respectively. The third seat was filled by Eugene Burns, who earned 25.

Democrat Edward Artman was elected as mayor in an unopposed race.

Braden Ashe can be reached at 724-226-4673 or bashe@tribweb.com.

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