Penn Hills School Board incumbents win easy, despite heavy write-in campaigns | TribLIVE.com
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Michael DiVittorio

Penn Hills School Board President Erin Vecchio and member Rob Marra cruised to easy victories in both the Republican and Democratic party primaries Tuesday, May 21 while an estimated dozen residents ran write-in campaigns.

Both incumbents were the only two people on the May 21 ballot.

There are five, four-year seats up for grabs come November.

Marra was the top vote-getter on the Republican ticket with 669. Vecchio got 453 GOP votes.

But there also were 647 Republican write-in votes cast, according to complete but unofficial returns from the Allegheny County Elections Division.

Vecchio earned the most votes on the Democratic side with 2,571 to Marra’s 2,436.

In addition, there were 2,072 Democratic write-in votes cast.

Marra was appointed to the board last June to fill the unexpired term of Marlon Ferguson.

Vecchio is in her fourth nonconsecutive term.

The other three four-year seats up for grabs are currently occupied by Cathy Mowry, Vice President George Sens and his wife, Jan.

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

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

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 November ballot.

Counting and verifying write-ins and absentee ballots will take at least the next few weeks.

“I was glad to see there were people that got write-in votes and campaigned to get write-in votes,” Marra said. “We do need some people interested in the district to help turn this thing around.”

The district is 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 with staff cuts, tax increases and other initiatives is expected to be voted on in June.

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

Marra said he plans to do no campaigning, instead focusing on the recovery plan and working with Matsook and the district business manager.

Vecchio echoed Marra’s statements.

“I’m just trying to focus on getting this district back into shape,” she said.

A little more than 5% of registered voters in either party turned out to vote in the school board election, a fact that frustrated the board president.

“With all the problems going on in Penn Hills and that’s all the people who came out to vote?” she said. “That’s terrible. That’s a disgrace to Penn Hills.

”People are screaming and yelling about things and you don’t even come out to vote, just like the board meeting (attendance).”

Vecchio also was surprised at the write-in numbers, and would have liked to see more people actually file petitions to have been on the ballot with her and Marra.

“Everybody has a right to do a write-in, but you should have done it the proper way in the first place,” she said. “You have to file finances, background checks and all that. People don’t even know what’s what here.”

Both incumbents said they do not anticipate any problems filling all five school board seats come November.

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