Benfer, Brennan, Houser, Hyde and Yeagley win Penns Valley school board seats

mcarroll@centredaily.comNovember 6, 2013 

Two of the four challengers who campaigned together to replace sitting Penns Valley school board members won, while an incumbent and another newcomer withstood the opposition.

Challengers H. Mark Benfer and Victoria Brennan and current board Vice President Chris Houser and newcomer Jeffrey Hyde, who campaigned with the incumbents, all won seats to the board in the general election Tuesday.

Incumbent Amy Niewinski lost her bid for re-election to challenger Brennan for the Region 3 seat representing eastern Penns Valley.

Two other members of the challenging group, Joseph Ebeling and David S. Braucht, fell short in their bids to bring change to the board.

Incumbent Hank Yeagley, who did not campaign with either group and who did not face opposition in the general election, also will return to the board.

The races between Houser, Benfer and Braucht for two seats and between Hyde and Ebeling were tight, according to unofficial results.

Hyde and Ebeling were separated by a single vote before a final precinct came in, giving Hyde a 1,402 to 1,302 victory, the unofficial results show.

Houser, with 1,459 votes, and Benfer, 1,330, narrowly defeated Braucht, 1,284, according to the results.

Brennan scored a more comfortable victory against Niewinski, netting 426 votes to the incumbent’s 362, to wrestle away a seat.

Challengers Brennan, Benfer, Ebeling and Braucht ran on a platform of bringing transparency and community involvement to the board. They were critical of the current board’s handling of a now-dead plan to bring a community center to school property.

They appear to have missed their opportunity to remake the look of the board, but still gained two seats on the panel.

Incumbents Houser and Niewinski and Hyde centered their campaigns around the district’s recent academic and financial achievements.

Houser said he was seeking re-election to continue with what he called the sitting board’s progress in limiting taxes while improving educational quality in the district.

“I think we’ve done a lot of good,” he said. “But it only takes a short amount of time to set us back 10 years. That’s the reason I want to continue the progress we’ve made.”

Brennan, a political newcomer, said she would bring to the board her experience running a countywide counseling program for troubled teens and also her educational background in childhood and adolescent development.

“That’s where my interest has been since I was a child,” Brennan said. “I feel strongly about helping kids out, helping young adults. I would keep their best interests at the forefront.”

Hyde, a political newcomer, said his background in economics and finances will help him hit the ground running as a member of the school board.

“The big challenge, because we’ve been able to have good academic success, is to continue in light of the financial pressures of retirement, health care costs — these sorts of extraordinary expenses,” Hyde said.

Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631. Follow him on Twitter @Carrollreporter.

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