Michael Crawford

Mike Crawford

It took four tries on Tuesday before the Wilmington Area School Board got a majority vote to fill a empty seat on the board.

In the end, the board voted 5-3 to appoint Michael Crawford, a Laurel High School graduate who served in the military for 30 years and worked in the state prison system for 27. Crawford also volunteered for the district’s football program for 19 years.

“I’m excited and it’s a new thing for me to learn,” he told The News. “I love being part of a team.”

He will complete Kathryn Riley’s unexpired term. Riley resigned last month for personal reasons.

Although Crawford’s appointment will end on Dec. 5, he is also among six running for five seats on the school board in the May 16 primary. Others running are incumbents Carol Shaw Harris, Joe Kollar and Vanessa Russo and newcomers Jessica Cubellis and Jeff Larson.

Cubellis and Melda Irwin also applied for the Riley’s seat.

A mother of three elementary-age children, Cubellis works with schools around the country on curriculum and instruction.

Irwin earlier this year retired after serving as a school district secretary for 41 years; the 1981 Wilmington High School graduated hasn’t missed a first day of school in 53 years.

After the board interviewed the three candidates, they voted 5-3 against appointing Irwin. When asked to vote on either Cubellis or Crawford, the board deadlocked at 4-4 for each.

School district Solicitor Michael Bonner said the board could leave the decision up to a Lawrence County Court of Common Pleas judge. The board had 30 days after Riley’s Feb. 28 resignation to fill the vacancy.

Bonner then asked for a recess followed by a closed-doors session to discuss the situation for what he called a legal matter. Public boards can meet privately to discuss such matters.

After 10 minutes, the board reconvened and chose Crawford.

School board members Carol Harris, Broc Johnson, Joseph Kollar, Julie Ochs and Diana Caiazza voted for Crawford. Kirstan Tervo, Nicole Cox and Vanessa Russo voted against.

In the initial vote, Ochs voted against Crawford. She had no comment when The News asked why she changed her mind.

Bonner told The News he advised the board during the closed-door session to make a motion for a second vote for one of the three candidates.

Prior to any vote, Harris commended the applicants.

“With this (Nashville mass school) shooting fresh on my mind, I would love to see what Mr. Crawford can bring in with his background,” she said.

Cox said she favored Cubellis for her experience and education, while Kollar liked that Irwin was the only one not running for election and for her decades of experience with the school district.

“I want you guys to be fair coming out of the gates in November,” Kollar said. “On the other hand, being of a selfish perspective, we could really use Mrs. Irwin’s history.”

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