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Write-in candidate's nomination could change look of Plum school board

| Wednesday, July 10, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Michele Gallagher saw potential slashes to a host of electives in the Plum School District as unacceptable.

“When the cuts went up, to me it was a tragedy,” said Gallagher, Oblock Junior High School PTA president.

“It put me in a tail spin. I felt charged.”

Gallagher's outrage over the the potential for 21 teacher furloughs prompted her six days before the primary to mount a write-in campaign for a seat on the Plum School Board.

The Allegheny County Division of Elections last week said Gallagher, 41, a registered Democrat, secured the third position on the Democrat ballot with 552 votes.

Gallagher's nomination knocked out incumbent Sal Colella's placement on the Democrat ballot.

Colella received 509 votes. Colella, a Republican, secured the fourth position on the Republican ballot. Gallagher is a registered Democrat.

Gallagher's nomination on the Democrat ballot has the potential to change the complexion of the Plum School Board.

If Gallagher, along with Democrats Michelle M. Stepnick and Dawn Lynn Check in November win seats on the board, the three would join incumbents Tom McGough and Loretta White, both Democrats, to take the majority away from the Republicans.

“It's definitely a game changer,” said Gallagher. “I am very excited about it.”

Gallagher believes she, along with Check and Stepnick, would bring a fresh perspective to the board, in part because they are mothers.

Gallagher concedes the board had tough decisions to make to balance the 2013-14 budget. The board voted to use nearly $1 million from the district's reserve fund to help balance the $56 million spending plan.

The board also voted to eliminate the family consumer and sciences program at the high school.

Three teachers from the program are set to be laid off. Also, a tax increase is expected to raise $460,068 in revenue.

The board pulled back from approving 21 staff cuts and the elimination of a host of electives.

“Every spring they (the school board) scare parents, the community and children (with potential cuts),” Gallagher said.

Gallagher also concedes that tough decisions will need to be made to balance the 2014-15 budget due to anticipated increased costs.

The district's contract with the Plum Borough Education Association expires on June 30, 2014.

PBEA officials had agreed to about a half-million dollars in concessions. Talks broke down when the board decided against a one-year contract extension through June 30, 2015. Board members said a one-year contract extension would have cost the district an additional $900,000 in salaries for the 2014-15 school year. The PBEA contends the contract extension would have resulted in an additional $727,758 in salaries.

Gallagher said all employees need to help contribute to the fiscal viability of the district.

Former Plum Republican Committee Chairman Dave Majernik touts the accomplishments of the incumbents — Colella, Dowdell and Drake.

“Our guys have been ingenious in ways to save money with a minimal effect on school programs,” Majernik said.

Majernik said some of the accomplishments have included instituting a new reading program in the elementary schools, hiring a math specialist for the elementary schools, building the new Pivik Elementary School at $2 million under budget, and taking steps that led to Standard and Poor's rating service upgrading the district's credit rating to an A-plus.

“Sal, Andy and Kevin have held the line and saved education,” Majernik said.

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

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