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Penn Hills

Penn Hills school board fills vacant seat

Michael DiVittorio
| Tuesday, June 26, 2018, 4:54 p.m.
Penn Hills school board member Catherine Mowry swears in newly appointed member Rob Marra to fill a board vacancy.
Michael DiVittorio | Tribune-Review
Penn Hills school board member Catherine Mowry swears in newly appointed member Rob Marra to fill a board vacancy.

Penn Hills school board members wasted no time filling a vacancy on their nine-member panel.

They voted 7-0 on Monday to both accept the resignation of Marlon Ferguson and appoint Rob Marra to fill the unexpired term of the former school director.

Denise Graham-Shealey was absent.

Ferguson, 53, was elected to the board in 2015. His four-year term was set to expire in 2019.

He submitted a letter of resignation to the district June 18, saying dysfunction and political posturing made him want to leave the elected post.

“It's just not the way boards should function,” Ferguson said June 19. “It's very political. They're petty.”

He did not mention board members by name when discussing his reasons for resigning, and his former colleagues did not address his departure outside of the vote to accept it.

At the Monday meeting, District Solicitor Bruce Dice told board members they had 30 days to fill the vacancy after the resignation acceptance. They did not wait 30 minutes.

Marra, 62, was appointed district treasurer without compensation Jan. 22. He resigned from that post Monday night to accept the board position. Marra was sworn onto the board by Catherine Mowry.

“I think it's a very good school district,” Marra said. “I think we have a lot to offer. We need to go in the right direction, and hopefully I can influence the board to move in that direction.”

Marra will have to run for election in 2019 if he wants to keep the seat.

“I'll fill the seat and contribute as much as I can here and see how it goes,” he said. “I certainly haven't ruled out running in the future.”

Board member Yusef Thompson Sr. welcomed Marra to the board and encouraged the public to be patient as the district moves forward.

“We have new people up here and another new person going through changes, but these are the correct changes,” Thompson said. “That's what's important.”

Board President Erin Vecchio also expressed confidence in Marra's abilities.

“You are a man about numbers and you work great with (district business manager) Eileen (Navish),” Vecchio said. “You guys are doing a great job together.”

Marra has a doctorate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and serves as the vice president of global technology for Almatis B.V.

Marra had a shot to fill a board vacancy in May 2017, but school directors opted at the time to replace the departed Don Kuhn Jr. with former Penn Hills police Officer George Sens , who is now board vice president. Kuhn resigned in April 2017.

The first major decision for Marra and the rest of the board together is the approval of the 2018-19 budget.

The district is more than $170 million in debt — largely due to the construction of the high school and elementary school. The Allegheny County District Attorney's Office is investigating the district for alleged misuse of taxpayer funds and other alleged criminal activity.

It's unclear when that investigation, which has been ongoing for more than a year, will conclude.

The board planned to vote on next year's spending plan including a tax hike and at least 12 teacher furloughs at a special meeting on June 30. The meeting occurred after the Penn Hills Progress deadline. See triblive.com for updates.

With Marra's resignation, the district also is looking to appoint a new treasurer. Those interested can contact the district at 412-793-7000 for more information.

Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2367, mdivittorio@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MikeJdiVittorio.

Correction: June 28, 2018

This story was modified to correct the spelling of Erin Vecchio's name.

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