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School board candidates vie for Plum residents' votes

| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Four Republicans and two Democrats are vying for four open seats on the Plum School Board.

Incumbents Sal Colella, Kevin Dowdell and board President Andrew Drake, all Republicans, each are seeking another four-year term.

They have teamed with Republican Jim Rogers who unsuccessfully sought a seat on the board in 2011.

Republican Shane McMasters is not seeking re-election.

Newcomers Michelle Stepnick and Dawn Lynn Check, both Democrats, are the challengers. Check is the district's former public relations director.

All the candidates are cross-filed.

The primary is May 21. The top vote-getters will advance to the general election in the fall.

Check said that her decade-long history of working in the district makes her an ideal candidate.

“With my experience in the school district, coupled with my investment as a parent, I want to offer my skills as a board member to move this district forward,” Check said.

Stepnick said the current board is not taking the district in the right direction and wants to make changes.

“My son is 26 months old,” Stepnick said.

“His future and the future of upcoming classes depends on what decisions this school board makes.”

Colella, Dowdell and Drake want another four years to build on their accomplishments.

“During my term, I initiated the development of a district five-year strategic plan covering financial planning, academic improvement, infrastructure improvements and support functions,” Drake said.

“This is the key to the long-term viability of the district, and I would like to continue to sponsor this initiative as it matures.”

Dowdell said the current board has been successful.

“In spite of the difficult economic situation, we have not raised taxes, and our test scores have been improving,” Dowdell said.

“I would like to continue this progress over the next four years.”

Colella wants to continue working to put together a plan to involve students and citizens in the emerging changes in education.

“I want to use my leadership and problem-solving experience to develop and implement strategies that positively impact bottom-line results,” Colella said.

Rogers hopes to be elected to use his experience in fiscal management.

“With my background working with hundreds of companies of all types, I feel I bring a strong practical perspective the board,” Rogers said.

“I remain a strong fiscal conservative who will keep a close eye on the purse strings.”

Check and Stepnick said their main goals if elected are to stop the outsourcing of jobs and elimination of positions.

In particular, Stepnick points to Kelly Educational Staffing that the board hired in 2011 to place substitute workers in a variety of categories: teachers, teacher aides, nurses, secretaries, food-service workers and custodians. District employees formerly handled the duties.

“It is a waste of money,” Stepnick said.

“The classrooms are not full. Teachers take their open periods and fill in as substitute teachers.”

The fill rate for substitute teachers was 98 percent in February, 99 percent in January and 94 percent in December, according to statistics from the company.

“We need to keep our taxpayers working,” Check said.

“They are invested in their community and our children.”

Check also wants to review the district's academic programs.

Stepnick wants to ensure all students have the latest technology.

Colella's goals if re-elected include providing fiscal responsibility, exploring a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program at the elementary level, continuing a quality improvement process and investing heavily in staff development.

Drake aims to implement the district's five-year strategic plan, continue to challenge the administration, teachers and staff to improve academic performance, and complete the construction of the new Holiday Park Elementary School.

Dowdell wants to establish a “balanced and sustainable budget” in five years while maintaining continuous improvement in education.

“These goals will be difficult to reach,” Dowdell said.

“But I think if we work together as a board and as a community, they are achievable.”

Rogers aims to work for the best education for students while being fiscally responsible.

“With proper planning and cost allocation, the budget can be balanced with minimal impact on programs and no decline in quality of instruction,” Rogers said.

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8753, or

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