Selection of vice president roils North Allegheny board

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The coalition of community members and incumbents formed to fight the proposed closing of Peebles Elementary School flexed its muscle during the North Allegheny school board’s Dec.4 reorganization.

Christopher Jacobs of McCandless was unanimously elected president. He joined the board two years ago and replaced Maureen Grosheider who did not seek another term as board president.

Mr. Jacobs said he was “truly humbled” by his colleagues' confidence in his ability to lead the board, and acknowledged having “big shoes” to fill.

Newcomer Tara Fisher also of McCandless was elected vice president by a 5-4 vote over eight-year incumbent Thomas Schwartzmier of Franklin Park.

Mr. Jacobs and Mrs. Fisher have children at Peebles. Mrs. Fisher was part of a wave of three newcomers -- all members of the Save NA Schools group, who were elected to the board in November. Combined with Mr. Jacobs and incumbent Ralph Pagone, also re-elected in November, it gives the citizens group a majority of board votes.

In addition to her own vote, Mrs. Fisher received support from other newcomers Scott Russell and Kevin Mahler, as well as Mr. Jacobs and Mr. Pagone.

Libby Blackburn, Joseph Greenberg and Mrs. Grosheider voted for Mr. Schwartzmier, who also voted for himself.

In nominating Mrs. Fisher, Mr. Pagone noted her work in leading the Save NA Schools group.

"Twenty months ago, this room was empty. She stepped forward as part of the community to make voices heard across the district,” he said. “I think she will do an incredible job.”

Mrs. Fisher said being elected vice president was a “very poignant moment for me” as a North Allegheny graduate. “I think the ties that bind all of us here at this table tonight…will make a positive difference to the students of North Allegheny.”

Mr. Greenberg read a prepared statement decrying the selection process, saying that the vice presidential vote was a “foregone conclusion” decided before the meeting. He also said that the vice presidency should go to an experienced board member.

“In good conscience, I cannot vote for someone to lead on this board who has not been on this side of the table for a single meeting,” he said, adding that he would not have voted for himself, Mrs. Blackburn or Mr. Jacobs to lead the board during their first year in office.

“Were we prepared to be on the board? Yes. Were we prepared to lead the board? No,” he said. “This decision is irrational and brings with it undue risk to the school district.”

Mr. Greenberg also referenced the acrimony during the Peebles debate.

Many of us in this room witnessed the inappropriate and disrespectful comments in this board room and online,” he said. “It is imperative that we all put aside the past year and work together productively.”

Mrs. Blackburn echoed some of Mr. Greenberg’s comments, saying that, even though she attended board meetings and served on committees before being elected, she had “so much to learn” upon taking office.

She added that she serves with Mr. Schwartzmier on the board of the A.W. Beattie Career Center where he was unanimously elected board president. “He is excellent at running a meeting.”

The district sets its meetings in July, and generally meets on the third and fourth Wednesdays of the month.

Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer:

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