Only 2 people are on the ballot for 5 seats in Penn Hills School District primary |
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Michael DiVittorio

Not many Penn Hills residents want a chance to lead their school district.

That is evident via Allegheny County Elections Division records, which show only two people have filed for five seats in the May 21 primary election.

Incumbents board President Erin Vecchio and School Director Bob Marra have cross-filed.

The other three four-year seats up for grabs are currently occupied by Cathy Mowry, Vice President George Sens and his wife, Jan. None are on the ballot.

Vecchio is in her fourth nonconsecutive term. She said the potential for a state takeover of the district may be keeping potential school directors at bay.

“Nobody wants to get involved with the school district as messed up as it is,” Vecchio said. “I just find it really disturbing that no one got a petition to run and fight for their community. It’s unheard of. They’re all ready to (complain), but nobody wants to run. I’m not giving up. I’ve lived here my whole life. I know things can be fixed.”

The district’s more than $172 million in debt largely due to high school and elementary school construction projects.

It was placed in financial recovery status by the state Department of Education. Daniel Matsook has been assigned as its recovery officer. A recovery plan is expected to be made public in May and voted on in June.

The state could take over the district if the plan is not approved.

Marra said he doesn’t know why people decided not to run for school board, but doesn’t believe the state’s actions were a factor.

“I was a little surprised there were not more people running,” Marra said. “I was hoping some people would put their name in as possible write-in candidates or maybe try to get on the ballot another way. I’m hoping there will be some people that agree to run as write-ins, otherwise we have to appoint (board members).”

Residents can earn the Democratic or Republican nod to be on the November ballot for the seats via write-in votes.

County elections officials said write-in candidates must get at least 10 votes and be among the top five vote-getters to be on the ballot.

Jan Sens was recently appointed to the board to fill the unexpired term of former President Denise Graham-Shealey, who resigned her elected post to pursue social justice efforts.

Jan Sens will serve through early December when the board reorganizes.

She said she wanted to be on the board to help the district and her husband, who is not running for reelection due to health concerns.

A retired cafeteria worker and former custodial and maintenance union president, Jan Sens said she is undecided on a write-in campaign. She notes that politics can be brutal.

“I am concerned,” she said. “People are very cruel and outspoken when they don’t know your background, don’t know you thoughts and a don’t want to give you a chance. I knew what it was like to work for the school district, and I also sat in the audience (during board meetings).”

Mowry did not return a call seeking comment.

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