District parent Jessica Reed speaks at the Woodland Hills School Board meeting on May 17, 2023. (Photo by Alexis Wary/PublicSource)
Primary election results could shake up debate as issues of transparency and finances mount in the struggling school district.
by Lajja Mistry, PublicSource
Concerns about transparency, finances and performance at the Woodland Hills School District drove a contentious primary election that could bring a majority-new board — and maybe the changes that some parents and community members want to see.
The district faces plunging test scores, steadily declining student enrollment and rising charter school costs, and has responded with furloughs and an operating budget deficit that has left some deeply dissatisfied with the administration.
Many parents have expressed discontent with the district’s degree of transparency in its decisions, an issue that was central in the primary election for the school board.
The district has six board seats on the ballot. Incumbents Carlton Scott and Robert Clanagan-Bey lost their primaries. Incumbents Terri Lawson and Laura Arthrell survived. New candidates Tamara Allen-Thomas, superintendent of Clairton City School District; Doneika Griffin, a district parent; and Melanie Timbers, a behavioral health therapist, won primaries.
Timothy Reed, a district parent and a web applications engineer, and incumbent Michael Rensland, who both cross-filed as Republicans, will also run in the general election in November. All board members serve four-year terms. Following the resignation of board member Marilyn Scott, a write-in candidate will be on the ballot for an open seat for a two-year term.
Overall, that means five of the nine board seats could be held by someone new come January 2024.
The five public schools in the district serve about 3,170 students. In recent years, the district has seen a steady drop in student enrollment. The state Department of Education predicts that Woodland Hills could lose about 500 students by 2032.
Coming turnover on its board follows a recent tax cut and teacher furloughs, as parents continue to ask for more public input from the district administration.
An increasingly opaque administration
The Woodland Hills School District, composed of 12 municipalities, was born as a result of a controversial court ruling in 1981, aimed at achieving racial desegregation. The ruling mandated the merger of the General Braddock district with the school districts of Churchill, Edgewood, Swissvale and Turtle Creek.
In 2019, the board voted in favor of a realignment plan to restructure the school buildings. Some parents did not agree with the changes, but they were able to participate in multiple public discussions.