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Woodland Hills school board president abruptly steps down

| Monday, July 17, 2017, 6:12 p.m.
Woodland Hills School District
Woodland Hills Junior/Senior High School
Tara Reis

Woodland Hills School District board President Tara Reis has abruptly resigned from her leadership post.

Superintendent Al Johnson told the Trib that he received notice Reis was resigning Monday, just two months after she secured a spot on the November ballot.

In a two-paragraph email sent to Johnson and the rest of the board, Reis did not provide any reasons for resigning. As a “last request,” she urged the board to approve employee contracts she said would provide “much-deserved compensation and benefits” for teachers and support staff.

“It is these people who work tirelessly and don't get near enough credit for working with our children on an individual basis every day,” Reis wrote. “I thank them personally and will continue to keep a watchful eye for their fair treatment and that of all WHSD students.”

Johnson deferred questions about the board's next steps to its vice chair, Mike Belmonte. Belmonte did not immediately return requests for comment.

Reis, an events coordinator from Churchill who first ran for the board in 2011, won both the Democratic and Republican tickets on the May primary ballot.

Her sudden resignation comes amid public backlash over incidents of violence between staff and students and a civil rights probe by Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.

During her Region 1 re-election campaign, Reis lamented that “so much” of what transpired has been “tragic and very unfortunate.” She cited goals such as getting the community more involved in budget workshops, renovating dilapidated school buildings and improving communication among teachers, staff, parents and the district's 3,800 students.

“We're tired of the bad publicity, and we want to get together and heal,” said Lou Berry, 58, a volunteer leader with Concerned Citizens of Woodland Hills, a grassroots activist group seeking major changes in response to incidents of violence in the school district.

Berry said that Reis quitting was “great news” to his group which has called for a “complete shakeup” of the board.

“I'm a little bit surprised by it because I didn't think she would give up that easily,” Berry said.

Berry said he's hopeful the board will consider as a replacement his group's May primary write-in candidate , Chardae Seligsohn, a stay-at-home mother and former real estate agent of Wilkins.

Shortly before the primary, the district made national headlines when a Pittsburgh attorney released videos of Woodland Hills High School surveillance cameras that showed the arrests of two black students by a white Churchill police officer assigned to the school. Zappala Jr. has said the arrest tactics by a police officer assigned to the high school could have civil rights implications .

Last month, officials announced a new commission tasked with studying how to improve the campus climates , ease tensions and strengthen public trust.

Meanwhile, the high school's principal, Kevin Murray, was put on leave and his certification has been called into question .

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514, nlindstrom@tribweb.com or on Twitter @NewsNatasha.

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