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Frustrated MASD Residents Holding Town-Hall

Organizers cite rancor at school board meetings, say ongoing issues aren’t being addressed

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
October 04, 2023
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

This story was changed after its original publication. See the editor’s note at the end.

Correction: This story initially omitted Mark Holtzman as one of the candidates.

A group of concerned McKeesport Area residents will hold a town-hall style meeting on Saturday to discuss challenges facing the district and what they view as a lack of appropriate response from the school board.

The meeting, to be held at 5 p.m. at White Oak Athletic Association, 1798 Lower Heckman Road, is non-partisan, says one of the organizers, McKeesport resident Rosie Norgren, and is not supporting any political candidate or party.

“A group of us got together after the last board meeting,” she says. “We just know a lot of people in the community are upset about how things have been going — financial issues, issues within the schools — people aren’t feeling heard. We really want people to have an opportunity to be heard.”

The event is being held in the wake of a school board meeting last week at which one school director was accused of using profanity and a slur against a member of the audience during an argument.

Residents are also frustrated by errors in the district’s property tax bills that left many homeowners not being properly credited for the state’s Homestead Tax exemption.

The district announced the error and the school board has voted to issue tax refunds, though homeowners have said they have not yet received their checks. The district’s business manager resigned last week.

“People feel that things are not being addressed,” says Norgren, who is organizing the meeting along with fellow McKeesport resident Julian Thomas and other frustrated neighbors. “They’re being talked over, they’re being yelled at when they do bring up a topic. We’ve just kind of had enough.”

She is inviting members of the administration and the school board to attend the meeting and listen to residents’ concerns.

“We want to be respectful at this meeting,” Norgren says. “We’re never going to get anywhere if we’re just fighting with one another.”

Among other issues, the district is currently negotiating a new contract with its teachers’ union. The previous pact with McKeesport Area Education Association expired Aug. 31 and no progress has been announced since then.

At last week’s meeting, the school board “never once talked about the teachers’ contract,” notes another city resident, Jeffrey “Jeffro” Anderson, who ran unsuccessfully for school director in the May primary. “You’d think that would be one of their top priorities.”

Anderson has been outspoken at recent board meetings and last week alerted school directors to a bullying incident.

Norgren says that for her, issues came to a head after a school director was accused of using a homophobic slur.

“That got me going,” she says. “That’s kind of where I felt like I’d had it. There’s no room in this district for hateful, discriminatory conduct like that by a school board member. It’s sending a message to the whole community — especially to our students who need to feel safe.”

Six members of the school board — James Brown, Diane Elias, Dan Goughnour, Mindy Lundberg, Steve Kondrosky and LaToya Wright — and the district’s administration have since apologized for the incident in a message posted to social media.

In the statement, school directors and administrators reiterated the district’s commitment to “diversity, equity and inclusion and ensuring that everyone has a deep sense of belonging in our district.”

“What transpired at the end of our last school board meeting, when hurtful language was used, was not aligned with our DEI vision and mission,” the statement said. “Please know that we have immediately engaged numerous stakeholders and consultants to support our action steps forward so that we can reflect, heal, learn and grow through this together. We are sorry for any and all harm this has caused and we are actively engaged in the process of restoration.”

But Norgren says the apology came only after she and other residents pressured the district into responding.

“There are a lot of people who are afraid to speak up,” she says. “We’re not going to solve all of these problems, either, at this meeting. That’s going to take some time and it’s going to take everyone from the community.”

She says she’s not sure why conditions at the board meetings have deteriorated. “I’m just speculating, but it seems like there’s a lot of pushing and shoving,” Norgren says. “People aren’t aligned with one another. I think some of it’s the personalities involved, but I think some of it’s political as well.”

Anderson says he suspects the upcoming election is playing a factor.

Five seats on the board are open at the Nov. 7 election. Candidates include incumbents James Brown, Diane Elias and Joe Lopretto as well as Mark Holtzman, Matthew Keller, Jason Pavlecic and David Seropian.*

“I don't know if some of the board members figure they’re going to be out of office after the election, or what,” Anderson says. “We’re just trying to express our concerns and figure out what we can do to get the school board to respond, and if they’re not going to do something, we are.”

Norgren says she hopes people from each of the district’s municipalities — including Dravosburg, South Versailles Twp., Versailles and White Oak — will attend. She would like to see as many as 100 residents at the event.

“Our kids are suffering,” Norgren says. “Our teachers don’t have a contract, our homeowners are owed money. Security is an issue for a lot of parents. We want to work on these issues.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story did not include Rosie Norgren’s comments. Julian Thomas, who is helping to organize the event, called Tube City Almanac and said that Norgren should be credited as one of the other leaders. We apologize to Rosie Norgren and all of the organizers; no offense was meant by leaving anyone out of the earlier story.

Correction: This story omitted Mark Holtzman, who is a candidate for school board on both the Republican and Democratic ballots. We apologize for the error.

Jason Togyer is volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. and editor of Tube City Almanac.

Originally published October 04, 2023.

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