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Six candidates seek four open Leechburg Area School District seats on board

Brian C. Rittmeyer
| Sunday, Oct. 25, 2009

There will be at least one new face on the school board after this year's election.

Three incumbents are among six candidates vying for four seats. Incumbent Bill Salem, the current board president, is not running for re-election.

Seeking re-election are Terry Knepshield, a board member for 16 years; Brian Ravotti, who has served one four-year term after being appointed five years ago; and Mary Fisher, who twice has been appointed to the board but never elected.

They are being challenged by Danielle Reinke, who won a spot on the ballot in the primary, and two candidates -- Julie Batiz and Jean Stull -- who were placed on the ballot after the primary as minor political party candidates. Their party is known as "The Public Interest" party.

Reinke, 29, of Leechburg did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

A stark difference between the three incumbents and at least two of the three challengers is on the question of Lenape Technical School and whether students should attend all day or half-days while getting their academic instruction in the district.

Stull and Batiz favor the existing full-day program. The incumbents say they want students to have a choice between Lenape and a half-day program at Northern Westmoreland Career & Technology Center in New Kensington, where the district began sending sophomores this school year.

Stull, 40, is a certified public accountant from Gilpin. She and her husband, Jay, have two sons, ages 15 and 11, in school. She once ran unsuccessfully for tax collector in Gilpin. Lenape is a concern for her.

"We've invested a lot of money into that school for over 50 years," Stull said. "The standard curriculum I don't think is for everybody."

Stull, who said she wants to represent the public and not just her own views, wants more financial accountability to both the public and the school board.

"I'm interested in seeing an entire breakdown of every penny that's spent there," she said. "My biggest thing is making sure that the administration is accountable for all the tax dollars that are spent."

Batiz, 46, of Gilpin is an administrative assistant for an asphalt company. She and her husband, Ronald, have three daughters, including a 12-year-old in sixth grade. She has not sought elected office before.

Having students at Lenape for a half-day would chop up their schedule too much, Batiz said. One of her daughters went to Lenape, and she was pleased with the education it offered.

"Teachers at Lenape are very flexible. They work together," she said.

She also wants more openness, financial accountability and to remove politics from the schools.

"I want to be known as a non-follower," she said. "I'm going to have an honest opinion and an honest vote. I'm not going to be the follower; I'm going to make my own opinion."

Fisher, 53, of Gilpin is a setup technician for Emerson Process Management in O'Hara. She and her husband, Kenneth, have a grown son and daughter.

Fisher ran unsuccessfully for the board in 2007 after being appointed in 2006. She was most recently appointed in October 2008 to replace John Peterman, who resigned.

Fisher said students should be able to decide which vo-tech school they attend.

"The students need an option to decide what they want to do with their lives. The more options students are given, the better rounded the student will become," she said. "Leechburg School District is a such a small school district; to offer these is fantastic."

Fisher said her appointed time on the board has readied her for a full elected term.

"The first time I was in office I was just learning the ropes and everything. Now, this time, I know the district and the policies more and I feel I can benefit Leechburg School District," she said.

Ravotti, 46, of Gilpin is in sales. He and his wife, Laura, have two sons, ages 17 and 14, in school.

Ravotti said he doesn't want Leechburg to pull out of Lenape, but like the other incumbents says students should be able to choose.

"What we're trying to do as a board is give the students a chance and every opportunity to better themselves with an education, whether its at Lenape or another vo-tech such as Northern Westmoreland," he said. "To send a student to Lenape is more than what it takes to educate a child here at our home district. I don't feel that's a very prudent use of taxpayers' money."

Ravotti said he wants the district to offer the best education possible with the money taxpayers are paying.

"You have to try to get the most for the money that's available without overtaxing the constituents that are here in this area. You have to walk a really fine line and get that as a balance with the money you have available and the education you can offer the children," he said.

Knepshield, 40, of Gilpin is a physician assistant. He and his wife, Amy, have two daughters, ages 12 and 8, in school.

Knepshield said Leechburg can no longer afford Lenape.

"Lenape has become an alternative high school and it's no longer a vo-tech," he said. "Leechburg's taxpayers cannot continue to fund two high schools in this district. We found a way to cut the cost of technical education in half. It's the responsible thing to do for our taxpayers. It's integral to the future existence of Leechburg as an independent school. It's that important."

Knepshield said he wants to see Leechburg continue.

"Leechburg has won several awards over the years. The quality of the education is outstanding. We have a core of staff and administrators who do an absolutely wonderful job. I don't want to see that change," he said.

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