Woodland Hills weighs school board election changes

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The way Woodland Hills School Board directors are elected might change again.

A 2010 overhaul divided the school district into three voting regions of four municipalities each, replacing the nine-region system that had been in place since Woodland Hills’ formation in 1981. Two directors represent each region, and the other three members serve at large.

At last week’s agenda-setting meeting, the board discussed the possibility of further refining the new system.

“I really believe that people like the idea of the regions,” said board member Tara Reis, based on her conversations with residents. The “only real problem,” she said, is candidates are allowed to run for multiple seats, which has resulted in one-third of the current board being appointed to their positions, rather than elected.

In the 2013 general election, Fred Kuhn won three seats on the board and Mike Belmonte two.

As a result, three directors — Jeffrey Cobbs, Colleen Filiak and Selena Johnson — were appointed in December. Ms. Filiak had been serving on the board but failed to win re-election in the primary.

While she supports the elimination of candidates being able to run for more than one seat, Ms. Reis pointed out one of the positives of the new system. Prior to its implementation, races often went uncontested.

The past two election years, more school board candidates have surfaced throughout Woodland Hills.

“That’s good,” she said. “We need interest. This district needs participation.”

Not all board members support pursuing a change.

“The three districts as they stand today are pretty close to equal,” said Regis B. Driscoll. He said he opposes the district spending money on legal fees, considering the possibility that a judge might reject a new plan.

Allegheny County Judge Joseph James approved the board’s request to modify the original system on Sept. 15, 2010 to go into effect for the 2011 primary.

Robert Tomasic, school board president, said his goal is to have a proposal ready for a similar timeline, which would allow for a new system to be in place for next year’s elections.

Mr. Tomasic, who voted against the 2010 revision, invited public input regarding a potential change.

In other business at the agenda-setting meeting, the board discussed the possibility of realigning attendance zones for elementary students in Braddock and North Braddock boroughs.

Under a new plan, all students in Braddock would attend Fairless Elementary School, which is located in the borough. Many of those students now are bused to Wilkins Township.

In turn, the plan calls for students in North Braddock’s First Ward to attend Wilkins Elementary.

Having more students walk to school would result in the district needing to use either two or three fewer buses at a savings of $41,000 per bus, said assistant to the superintendent Gerald Chessman.

Superintendent Alan Johnson said he has listened to “parents from Braddock complaining they don't have access to get to Wilkins because of the distance.”

Mr. Tomasic said he has supported making the change and wants it to be considered now that he is board president.

“The closer you put the students and parents to a building, the better off you are,” he said.

Mr. Driscoll, though, questioned why realignment would be limited to two boroughs within the district.

“You can probably do it in other places, to be honest with you,” he said.

The board also discussed working toward a replacement for business manager Joyce Sullivan, who is leaving the district effective Jan. 31. Interviews are set up with prospective candidates.

Harry Funk, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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