County to use Thomas Jefferson High School as polling location
Residents could be walking the halls of Thomas Jefferson High School on May 21, as they prepare to cast their ballot for council members, school board directors and county leaders.
The May primary will be the first time in several years that a school in West Jefferson Hills has served as a polling location, district officials said. And with that comes many concerns for district officials.
“It disrupts the educational process,” acting assistant Superintendent Hamsini Rajgopal said.
There also are parking limitations and safety concerns, officials said.
“We buzz everybody into our buildings, we don't just allow people to walk in freely. The polling place is allowing the community to freely walk into our buildings that we have no control over,” board President Anthony Angotti said.
State election code requires that school buildings be opened as polling locations, if requested by the county Department of Elections, solicitor Lisa Colautti said.
“There is some availability to negotiate which school site might be more appropriate than another,” she said. “But in the end, if the election department requires a school to make itself available, there's not much a school district can do but to comply.”
West Jefferson Hills school board members on Tuesday, in a 7-1 vote, approved a resolution asking the state legislature to change the state code to give school districts more say. Other districts in the region likely will follow suit, Rajgopal said.
Board member Alan Caponi dissented. Board member Darlene Schreiber was absent.
District officials adopted the resolution in hopes that the law will be changed to give districts more discretion to respond with safety and security concerns, so that their only recourse is not to close school on Election Day, Colautti said.
“That code was passed many, many, many years ago in a different time and place,” Angotti said. “Back in a time and place when our schools were opened freely; there weren't doors locked, there weren't buzzers to be buzzed into.”
Allegheny County Division of Election manager Mark Wolosik said most polling locations are in schools, churches and municipal complexes. He said he has only received a few requests to exclude a school building as a polling location.
“If they make it an in-service day or holiday, I don't see what the problem is,” Wolosik said.
West Jefferson Hills was first asked to have a school used as an election site a year ago, Rajgopal said. District officials noted safety concerns and the building was not used. This year, that was not an acceptable answer, she said.
West Jefferson Hills School Board members will reconvene their meeting on Monday at 7:30 p.m. in the Thomas Jefferson High School cafeteria for the purpose of hiring a new superintendent.
Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.