School's out: Departing board members pose a challenge

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The Pittsburgh school board is about to undergo the biggest change in membership in at least a generation.

Four members whose seats are up for re-election this year did not file petitions for the May primary. Jean Fink of Carrick, Theresa Colaizzi of Greenfield, Floyd "Skip" McCrea of the North Side and Sharene Shealey of North Point Breeze say they will leave the board at the end of their terms.

Thomas Sumpter of Schenley Heights is the only board member whose seat is on the ballot this year who is seeking re-election. Four other members won't face re-election for two more years -- Mark Brentley Sr., Sherry Hazuda, Regina Holley and Bill Isler.

The departing members will take with them a combined 58 years of service, and Ms. Fink, Ms. Colaizzi and Ms. Shealey have been board president.

Ms. Fink has been an influential member of the board since her first election in 1976, when the city was consumed with attempts to racially integrate the schools. At that time, the young housewife was motivated by preserving the tiny Bon Air elementary school where her children were enrolled. Today, after only a four-year interruption in her tenure on the board, her concerns extend beyond her own children and grandchildren, and she is the elder statesman of the Pittsburgh school district.

Ms. Colaizzi and Mr. McCrea were elected together in 2001, when they ran as advocates for their respective neighborhoods. Ms. Shealey's platform, too, was driven by the needs of the community where she resides and where her young children still attend city public schools. Although her time on the board is the shortest in this group at just one four-year term, she earned the respect of her colleagues as a thorough advocate for children and won election as board president in December.

The experience, institutional knowledge, sound judgment and aspirational goals embodied by these four members have been key to the fiscally sound management of the Pittsburgh Public Schools. A long list of contenders seeks to replace them. Candidates would do well to model the service of these four leaders in attempting to take the district forward.

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