Both candidates in school board District 2 race are veteran advocates for young people

Incumbent Dowd not seeking re-election

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Heather Arnet led a "girlcott" of Abercrombie & Fitch two years ago after the retailer produced a line of controversial T-shirts, while Stephanie Tecza has worked to make education and employment more accessible to the disabled.

Both candidates in the District 2 race for Pittsburgh school board are veteran advocates for young people. Both say they're devoted to equity and social justice. Neither is a shrinking violet.

District 2 takes in East Allegheny, Highland Park, Lawrenceville, Morningside, Polish Hill, Spring Garden, Spring Hill, Stanton Heights, the Strip District, Troy Hill and Washington's Landing. There's no incumbent in the race; current board member Patrick Dowd is stepping aside to run for City Council.

Ms. Arnet and Mrs. Tezca have cross-filed for the Republican and Democratic nominations. The contest is one of two school board match-ups on the May 15 ballot.

Ms. Arnet, 32, mother of one and Highland Park resident, is executive director of the Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania, a group that does advocacy work and funds women's rights projects.

In 2005, Ms. Arnet made national news with the girlcott that forced Abercrombie & Fitch to stop selling girls' T-shirts with such sayings as "Who needs brains when you have these?" She and a group of Pittsburgh girls later met with company executives to suggest an alternative T-shirt line.

Mrs. Tecza, 44, of Polish Hill, is an employment specialist at Achieva, an organization for people with disabilities. In her previous role there as an education advocate, she helped disabled students get instructional programs meeting their needs.

Her career evolved from personal experience--one of her two daughters has Down syndrome--and the district's treatment of special education students is one of Mrs. Tecza's biggest complaints.

Dr. Dowd has been one of Superintendent Mark Roosevelt's chief supporters, the linchpin of the 7-2 and 6-3 votes the superintendent receives on most issues. Where will his successor stand?

"I think the last few years have brought increased accountability and also a very strategic focus on increasing student achievement," Ms. Arnet said, adding she wants to help that agenda move forward.

Ms. Arnet has Dr. Dowd's backing but said she wouldn't vote the way he would on every issue. She said she supported the board's March 21 vote to extend Mr. Roosevelt's contract.

Mrs. Tecza has criticized aspects of Mr. Roosevelt's performance, but said she isn't running an "anti-Roosevelt" campaign.

"I would be excited to get in there and work with him," she said.

She expressed dismay with Mr. Roosevelt's approach to closing 22 schools last year, saying he relocated most students and then squeezed some special-needs students into leftover spaces. She said he hasn't done enough to consider parents' ideas or address their concerns about academic change.

The District 2 School Board Coalition that backed Dr. Dowd four years ago decided to endorse Ms. Arnet this year. Mrs. Tecza also sought the community group's endorsement. Although both agreed in advance to support whichever person the coalition chose, Mrs. Tecza decided to run anyway.

Critics said the turnabout gave her a credibility problem, but Mrs. Tecza said voters at the endorsement meeting didn't reflect District 2's diversity. Mrs. Tecza has been endorsed by Allegheny County Democratic Committee.

Ms. Arnet has a bachelor's degree in cultural and literary studies from Carnegie Mellon University. After graduating in 1997, she returned to New York, working as a marketing and brand consultant, business development manager and media relations officer while moonlighting as a director of feminist plays.

In 2000, she became development director of City Theater Co., Downtown. "Yo'Mama!," her own play about motherhood, set in yoga class, premiered at the Three Rivers Arts Festival in 2003 and has been produced in Alaska, Chicago and Seattle. Ms. Arnet said she was eager to help narrow the district's racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps and believed her work as a fund-raiser and financial manager would help guide the district through its financial straits.

Mrs. Tecza, who has an associate's degree in commercial art from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, once created artwork for Chuck E. Cheese restaurants and worked in the school district as a substitute aide. She said she would like guidance counselors to offer students more career assistance and wants to create a more welcoming environment at city schools.


Joe Smydo can be reached at jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.


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