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Kiski Area continues search for director

| Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2004

For the third time in little more than a month, the Kiski Area School Board has deadlocked in the appointment of a ninth member, opening the district up to likely intervention from a Westmoreland County judge.

Kiski Area school directors met Monday to interview five candidates who had applied for the last spot on the school board. It is vacant because member Dr. Elaine Geris of Allegheny Township ran for two seats in the November election and won them both -- a four-year term and a two-year term.

The board, with eight members, is trying to appoint a ninth member to the two-year term which Geris has given up.

Twice, they have voted 4-4 over whether to advertise for the vacant position or whether to appoint Don Lorant of Allegheny Township. Lorant ran for school board and lost in the primary.

Monday, another stalemate happened. Four board members supported Lorant. The other four supported Susan Hartford of Allegheny Township, who did not run in either the primary or general election.

Board members didn't nominate anyone else, although three other candidates were interviewed.

Now, residents can file a petition asking for a judge to intervene, Solicitor Andy Uncapher said.

Only 10 signatures are needed, but Uncapher didn't know whether they have to be residents of the Allegheny Township/North Washington voting region (Region I) or just residents of the school district. Kiski Area has nine communities and three voting regions.

Board President Jim Summerville said that if the matter doesn't go to a judge, the school board will likely continue to take votes on candidates until members reach an agreement. Summerville insisted that once the board gets past this issue of picking a ninth member, the rest of educational business won't be so divisive.

Lorant is a 1968 Kiski Area High School graduate and a financial manager for Electrolux International. He said he has attended school board meetings regularly for five years. Among other things, Lorant said he would be an advocate for special needs children, as his own two children -- both Kiski Area graduates and now pursuing degrees -- had learning disabilities.

Lorant helped file the lawsuit that led to a Westmoreland County judge ordering a redistricting of Kiski Area's voting regions. On the Davis Field issue, Lorant has said that Kiski Area needs a professional study "in an honest, fair manner" that would compare the cost of renovating Davis Field in Vandergrift versus building a new stadium at the high school in Allegheny Township.

Hartford, an audio director at North Coast Studio production facility in Pittsburgh, told board members she has no agendas. She said she hopes to improve communication between school board and public and also improve school district technology.

Hartford said it doesn't make sense for the school district to spend money to renovate Davis Field in Vandergrift when the field is not owned by the school district. She said she would like to see an extensive cost analysis of both options.

Hartford said she had wanted to run for school board in the primary but couldn't because of professional obligations. Those obligations no longer hinder her, she indicated.

The board members who supported Lorant credited his experience with Kiski Area as a frequent visitor to board meetings and as someone who ran for the office.

The members who supported Hartford liked the fact that she was "a fresh face" without an ax to grind, which is the impression they had of Lorant.

After the meeting, Lorant said in response that board members may have found his criticisms at past board meetings to be a bit tart because the members aren't used to being held accountable.

The other three applicants were:

  • Susan M. Higgins of North Washington, who lost in the general election;

  • James R. Johnson Jr. of Allegheny Township, who lost in the primary;

  • Keith Blayden of Allegheny Township, who did not run in either the primary or the general election. Additional Information:

    Who they supported

    Susan Hartford: Supported by board members Jim Summerville, Ron Ferrara, Ben Silvestri and Dr. Elaine Geris.

    Don Lorant: Supported by members Patrick Leyland, Joanne Retter, Monika McKillop and Gary Haag.

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