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Outgoing Pittsburgh School Board Members Hopeful about District’s Future

Deanna Garcia
90.5 WESA

After Election Day, the Pittsburgh Public School Board will experience its largest turnover since 1999. Four members, including the longest-serving, decided not to seek re-election and will be done after the group’s final November meeting.

Jean Fink has been on the school board since 1976 – with a one-term break in there somewhere. The District 7 member says her reason for not seeking reelection is simple.

“I’m tired” said Fink. “I just turned 69 a couple of weeks ago and it’s just wearing on me all the running around.”

Four of the five board seats up for election this year will be taken by new people. Fink said it’s time for a change on the board, which she says has accomplished a lot during her tenure.

“I think one of our real accomplishments is the way we’ve always kept the taxes in check,” she said, “we have very seldom had to raise taxes. I’m kind of proud that we were able to do that.”

Fink will be replaced by Cynthia Ann Falls, who was a teacher at two Pittsburgh high schools from 1992 to 2010.

Disctrict 5’s Theresa Colaizzi will also not be returning.

“The reason I’ve chosen not to run again is, first of all, I’ve done three terms – that’s 12 years,” she said, “and my children are grown and have moved on as well and I think it’s time for a new change, fresh blood so to speak to carry on the torch, new ideas, people with more energy.”

Colaizzi said even though she will be leaving her post, she will continue to follow the school board’s work.

“I mean you don’t put 12 years of your life into something and walk away and never look back. What I’d like to see is the board continue to move forward with the work we’ve done.”

That work, she said will hopefully continue to propel the district forward.

“In the 12 years that I’ve been on this board we’ve done a great deal of work and I don’t think most people have realized how much and how far we’ve come,” said Colaizzi. “We have the Pittsburgh Promise, we have Excellence for All, we have our evaluation system that’s unbelievable for our teachers. This is stuff that I’d love to see continue.”

But Colaizzi said the work of the board is not easy. There are numerous challenges, including one that isn’t necessarily unique to Pittsburgh – funding.

“Hopefully with change of government you have that possibility that the new board will try very hard to get money back from the state or new funding from the state. Hopefully with some real innovative ways of doing things they can become financially solvent again,” she said.

Colaizzi also had some words for incoming board members.

“God bless you and I hope your family’s there for you because you won’t see them a lot,” she said.

Colaizzi will be replaced on the school board by Terry Kennedy. She is the president of the PTSA at CAPA and active in several education organizations.

Floyd “Skip” McCrea has held the District 9 seat since 2001. As he prepares to leave his post, he also had some advice for new board members.

“Run [laughter]. No, keep an open mind,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot you like and a lot you don’t like, just keep the kids in mind and keep an open mind.”

McCrea echoed Colaizzi and Fink in hoping the future of the district comes with solutions to funding issues.

“I want to see us get out of the hole,” said McCrea. “Hopefully we can get money back from the city they’ve been collecting, but that was legislated by the state. Believe it or not we had very little control, the state legislators had a lot more control than we did.”

McCrea will be replaced by Caroyln Klug, a retired teacher who has worked for the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children and the Pittsburgh Public Schools. 

Back to Jean Fink – she said she’s looking forward to more free time and spending more time with her kids, grandkids and great-grandkids.

“It’s been a pleasure to serve all these years,” said Fink, “I’ve seen a lot of educational programs come and go, a lot of superintendents come and go, some were better than others. It’s been an interesting ride and I’ve always tried to make sure that we had the schools that the children in this city deserved.”

The other school board member not returning is District 1’s Sharene Shealey, who has served only one term. She will be replaced Sylvia Wilson, who recently retired as assistant to the president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers. Only District 3’s Thomas Sumpter will be returning to his seat.