Pittsburgh District 5 school board race lures 2 hopefuls
April 22, 2013 8:00 AM
By Eleanor Chute Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Two parents of current students are seeking the District 5 seat on the board of Pittsburgh Public Schools in the wake of incumbent Theresa Colaizzi's decision not to seek a fifth term.
Stephen DeFlitch, 42, of Greenfield, and Terry Kennedy, 51, who lives in Squirrel Hill near its border with Greenfield, are running on the Democratic ballot. Ms. Kennedy also is running on the Republican ballot.
This is the first election since boundaries were changed as a result of population shifts in the 2010 census.
District 5 includes all or parts of Greenfield, Hazelwood, Swisshelm Park, Glen Hazel, South Oakland and Central Oakland.
Mr. DeFlitch has a son at Minadeo and a daughter at CAPA 6-12. Ms. Kennedy has a son in the district's City Connections, which is for older special education students, and a daughter at CAPA. Her children previously attended Colfax K-8, Minadeo PreK-5, Rogers 6-8 and Allderdice High School.
Mr. DeFlitch, who grew up in Mount Pleasant, Westmoreland County, has a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Drexel University.
He is a quality/manufacturing manager for Tri-Arc Manufacturing in Blawnox.
In addition to participating in groups at his children's schools, he has served on the districtwide Excellence for All Parent Steering Committee since 2004; was co-chairman of the district's parent survey for two years; was on a subcommittee this year for revising the district's parent and family involvement policy, and is on the equity committee.
He has volunteered with Greenfield Soccer and was a Cub Scout master for Pack 109 in the East End.
Ms. Kennedy, who grew up in Montgomery County, has a bachelor's degree in applied mathematics from Carnegie Mellon University.
Ms. Kennedy did software engineering for Northrop Corp. in Hawthorne. Calif., then returned to Pittsburgh to work for then Tartan Labs. She worked for FORE Systems, later acquired by Marconi, until she was laid off in 2002.
She battled cancer and then held temporary contract positions until 2008.
Meanwhile, she increased her volunteer work, including at her children's schools. She currently is president of the Parent Teacher Student Association at CAPA and served on the districtwide Excellence for All Parent Steering Committee from 2007 to 2011.
Since 2008, she has been a member of the Pittsburgh Local Task Force on the Right to Education. She is a member of the districtwide Parent Advisory Committee for Empowering Effective Teachers.
She is active locally and regionally as an alumnus of Delta Gamma, a women's fraternity.
Mr. DeFlitch said he is running "to give parents more of a voice. I hope to bring some more transparency to the position."
As to the most critical issues facing the board, he said, "The No. 1 issue by far is the collective bargaining agreement."
Given the large percentage of costs that are personnel, he said, "It's really the only chance Pittsburgh has of becoming financially stable."
The district's contract with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers expires on June 30, 2015.
He said he is "willing to stand up to" the teachers union, explain the district's rising costs and ask, "What can we do to negotiate making those costs smaller?"
He thinks the board's extension of Superintendent Linda Lane's contract was a smart move and that she has "done a good job of being open and honest about financial issues."
As for whether he would raise taxes, he said he would not be against the raise permitted under Act 1, as the board did for 2013, but said, "I'd be very hesitant to continue to do that if the union wasn't willing to negotiate other things to help with the financial output."
He said he thinks the state of academics is "really a mixed bag right now."
He thinks the move to equalize art, music and library services this year was a step backwards because some schools lost resources they considered valuable. He also said he thinks site-based budgets are not transparent.
"I don't see that as equity," he said.
He thinks if the public understood more about the good things happening in the schools, more families would enroll.
"I would be out there selling this to the public just as I do to my neighbors who have children," he said.
Ms. Kennedy said her interest in running for the board grew out of testifying on public issues at board hearings and volunteering in her children's schools.
"I feel strongly on some issues. I feel I can actually work toward all of our students in the district," she said.
Her biggest problem over the years, she said, was in 2006, when more than 20 schools were closed under the right-sizing plan and curriculum was being changed.
"I think it was just too much," she said.
As far as the major issue now facing the district, she said, "The budget is the biggest challenge, hands down. We know we're going to be out of money in 2016."
She thinks the district needs to lobby harder for help from Harrisburg, including the possibility of banding together with other districts to fight for a fairer funding formula for special education. She also would like to see whether legal action is possible.
As to whether she would raise taxes, she said, "I would say nothing is off the table, but it should be a last resort."
She believes the district is already down to the "bare bones," so "I don't think we can cut more staffing positions."
On academics, Ms. Kennedy said, "There's always room for improvement, but I think overall they're in the right direction."
To improve, she said, "We need to look at the schools that do really well."
Ms. Kennedy is glad the current board extended Ms. Lane's contract.
"I'm actually happy with her as a superintendent from a parent perspective and a taxpayer perspective. I'm happy to have stability at the head of the district."