Belle Vernon alum announces candidacy for school board |
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Megan Tomasic

A Belle Vernon graduate announced his bid for candidacy on the Belle Vernon Area Board of Education, almost two weeks after three school board members and the superintendent resigned.

Robert J. Harhai of Rostraver Township has cross-filed on both Democratic and Republican tickets for the May 21 election, competing for one of the three empty seats.

“As a proud Belle Vernon Area graduate, and someone active in school affairs, I have first-hand knowledge of the curriculum, staff, buildings and, above all, our district’s needs,” Harhai said in a release. “After expressing interest in filling the recent board vacancies, I was strongly encouraged to run, with many residents supporting fresh, new ideas. I am truly humbled by the amount of support that I have received.”

A 2018 graduate of Penn State University, Harhai holds an electrical engineering degree and works at Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory in West Mifflin. He is studying for his masters degree in systems engineering at Penn State.

In February, Superintendent Michele Dowell and board members Aaron Bialon, John Nusser and Dan Sepesky all resigned, taking the nine-person board down to six members.

While the resignations occurred on the same day, Dowell attributed her resignation to putting her family first. Dowell said she accepted a position as director of curriculum at Ringgold School District in Washington County but said she would help the board find her replacement.

Bialon, who served on the board for 22 years, decided to resign for personal reasons, while Sepesky and Nusser said the board was moving in a direction that didn’t line up with their beliefs and values.

Sepesky served on the board for almost 12 years, and Nusser served for nine years.

Harhai said he is familiar with the challenges the board and administration is facing, adding the school district needs leaders who will minimize tax increases while maximizing academic opportunities for students.

“My engineering background has prepared me with strong skills that would be valuable to the district in many different areas, including budgets, organization, and design, while my strong community involvement has given me the leadership and social skills needed by successful school directors,” he said.

Harhai is a former member and current vice president of the Belle Vernon Area Football Hall of Fame Committee, a member of the Rostraver Township Historical Society and serves as assistant general chairman of the Mid-Mon Valley All-Sports Hall of Fame.

“If elected, I would help guide the future of the school district that built my own foundation for success,” Harhai said. “I offer a perspective that is vibrant, youthful, and energetic. I am passionate about shining a light on local career opportunities, at all education levels, to show our students that great success can be achieved without having to move away from the Belle Vernon Area.”

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