Parents, students, teachers rally to support electives in Plum School District

| Wednesday, May 29, 2013, 6:46 p.m.

Leigh Saltzman is learning more than how to bake chocolate chip cookies in the advanced cooking class at Plum High School.

“We made sushi today,” said Saltzman, 16, a junior. “It is one of my favorite classes of the day. We make interesting foods.”

Saltzman joined nearly 50 other students, parents, teachers and community members last week outside Oblock Junior High School to rally support for a variety of electives that are set to be eliminated to help balance the 2013-14 budget.

The school board voted last week to approve advertising the $55.2 million spending plan that cuts 21 teacher positions. The elimination of the 21 positions plus the elimination by attrition of four other positions means a savings of nearly $1.2 million in teacher salaries, according to district officials.

Program eliminations would include:

• Boyce Campus Middle College High School, an alternative education program;


• Television production, family consumer science (that includes cooking classes) and business education at the high school and junior high;

• Computer instruction and French and Spanish at the junior high; and,

• Technology education at both the high school and junior high is recommended for elimination.

The school board education committee also recommended eliminating one librarian and one high school guidance counselor.

Other proposed cuts include a floating staff nurse, Oblock library aide and high school library/nurse administrative assistant.

The board's vote followed three hours of public comment on May 22 on the proposed cuts.

Suzanne Dawson of Regency Drive said the television production program helped prepare her son, Kyle, to major in communications and sports broadcasting at Waynesburg University.

“Kyle was far more prepared than other students,” Dawson told the board.

Mike Puskar of Ross Hollow Road, president of the JROTC booster club, has concerns about what classes will be offered if some electives are eliminated.

“If you cut the electives, what will you do with the students?” Puskar asked.

Stephanie St. Leger of Blue Ridge Road wants teachers to pay more for their health benefits as means to balance the budget.

“They should give a little back and pay a little more,” St. Leger said.

J.R. Pilyih, treasurer of the Plum Borough Education Association, the union representing the district's 275 teachers, said talks between union officials and the board have occurred.

“We offered the district a proposal that takes money out of our pockets,” Pilyih said. “The board said we want more.”

Pilyih and PBEA President Martha Freese declined to discuss the specifics of the union's offer.

Board member Kevin Dowdell, finance committee chairman, declined comment on Pilyih's remarks.

“We are still in negotiations looking at ways to balance the budget without cutting any programs,” Dowdell said.

Some residents suggested the board vote to approve a tax increase to help balance the budget.

“It would be fiscally responsible to raise taxes,” said Jack Giarrusso of Rockland Drive. “I have four grandchildren in the district. Don't tear down the district. Senior citizens can pay $100 or $200 more a year.”

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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