Plum School District Republican committee members earn sweep for party nods; Dem newcomers get nods | TribLIVE.com
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Michael DiVittorio

Plum School District’s packed primary race resulted in Republican committee-endorsed candidates sweeping their party nods with several Democratic newcomers on the November ballot, ensuring a contested general election for six seats.

Incumbents Steve Schlauch (14.13 %), Sue Caldwell (13.18 %) and Karin Acquaviva (11.92 %), along with fellow Republicans Jacqueline Thomas (11.37 %) and Nathan Polacek (11.06 %) were the top five vote-getters out of 12 challengers.

“We have a good system in place and we executed the plan to perfection,” said Schlauch, Republican committee chairman. “We worked hard for all our candidates. We have a solid core and the Republican endorsement means something.”

Democratic winners for the five party nods were newcomers Michael Caliguiri (12.07 %) and registered Republican Michael Devine (10.96 %), Adam Hill (9.89 %) Amy Wetmore (11.10 %) and Michelle Stepnick (8.58 %).

Candidates from both parties thanked the residents for their support.

Wetmore is the Democratic Committee chairperson. Caliguiri and Hill were endorsed by the party.

Devine and Stepnick were not endorsed by either committee. Stepnick is a former board member.

“It went much better than I expected” Devine said. “I’m pretty excited, but have a lot of work to do before November and I’m looking forward to it.”

Wetmore claimed there was literature passed out saying anyone not endorsed by Republicans was going to raise taxes, something she said is not true.

“It’s about using the money responsibly and doing what’s best for our students,” Wetmore said of her committee’s message. “The motivation was the majority of us have kids in the district, and we want what’s best for all the kids.”

Caliguiri agreed, and noted Republicans have had the board majority for years.

“I think everybody recognizes that the academic programs, the early elementary and elementary programs are really in need of improvement,” he said. “I think we put forward a vision that was going to meet their needs. We realize it’s not going to happen overnight. The Republicans have led the charge over the last 10 or 12 years, but I think there are some parents, some administrators, teachers that are looking for some change. I think I’m the person to help lead that charge.”

Schlauch said his team focused on the board’s administrative hires, balanced budget and increased security.

“We have a balanced budget with no tax increase,” Schlauch said. “We hired a school police (force) to protect the students in the schools. We need to continue the positive progress. We’ve an outstanding new administration in place and we’re trending in the right direction. The school district is in much better shape today than it was four years ago.”

Stepnick was on the board from 2013 through 2017 with a few months off in 2016 due to a legal battle over her resignation and later court reappointment.

“I’m honored first and foremost to have gained a spot going into November,” she said. “When I look at those numbers, there’s a lot of work to do for our students and our school district and I’m excited and ready for the challenge.”

She said having a fiscally responsible plan that brings back full-time kindergarten is a must, and the board needs to be more transparent with personnel matters.

“The nepotism is horrible,” Stepnick said. “We don’t know who’s interacting with our children, and that’s a big concern to me as a parent. We learn who’s hired after they’re’ hired.”

District officials do not make their personnel agenda public prior to board votes.

Acquaviva was appointed to the board in February to fill the unexpired term of Brian Wisniewski, who resigned after sharing a controversial Facebook post.

“I’ve only been here a very short time, and this board has done a lot these past few month to turn this district around,” she said. “We’re going to work hard to be transparent and work for the taxpayers. We want to do what’s great for the children, the district and the taxpayers.”

Tim Sandstrom also won the Democratic nod for a two-year seat while Joe Tommarello earned the Republican nod in that contest. Tommarello cross-filed and was unopposed on the Republican side.

Less than 8 percent of both registered Republicans and Democrats voted in the primary election, according to online Allegheny County Elections Division numbers.

“I guess it’s just the primaries, but 7 percent is just god awful low for as mad as people seem to be,” Hill said. “We need to do a better job in getting families interested in politics, and interested in voting. Local politics impacts you the most.”

Candidates from both sides believe more people will come out in November.

“It’s a lower turnout than expected (and) it’s disappointing,” Schlauch said. “Your local elected offices are very important because they affect a lot. We have a lot of work to do come fall and we’re not going to take anything for granted.”

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