Penns Valley school board seats newcomers, sets leadership

mcarroll@centredaily.comDecember 4, 2013 

Penns Valley school board candidate Chris Houser (D) spoke at the candidate forum held at State College Borough Council chambers on Tuesday night. The forum was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Centre County.

ERIC SMITH — For the CDT

— Three newly elected directors took their seats Wednesday on the Penns Valley Area school board, but some familiar faces were elected to the panel’s top leadership roles.

Chris Houser narrowly won election to serve as board president, replacing Jay Martin in the position. Houser, who was re-elected to the board in November, served as vice president last year.

Houser defeated board member Melissa Krum 5-4 to serve as president. Newcomer Victoria Brennan, who wrestled away an incumbent’s seat in the general election, nominated Krum for the spot.

Houser, Martin, B.T. Schwier, Hank Yeagley and newcomer Jeff Hyde voted for Houser. Krum, Brennan, Carl Gaffron and newcomer Mark Benfer voted for Krum.

Krum will serve as vice president after being unanimously elected to the position. She was the only nominee.

It’s a new look for the board after a tightly contested election cycle that saw two incumbents defeated in the primary and general election.

Heavy interest in the general election pushed voter turnout in Penns Valley to about 40 percent, compared with just 17 percent for Centre County as a whole.

Brennan and Benfer, and three other unsuccessful candidates, campaigned together on a platform that contended the board needed to be more transparent and interact better with the community.

Houser, Hyde and others campaigned on maintaining what they called the financial and academic success the board has helped foster in the district.

The new board’s first action together after electing its officers was setting a meeting schedule. Meetings will generally be held on the first and third Wednesdays of the month, as they were in 2013, with some exceptions.

Also at the meeting, the board heard a report on its 2012-2013 finances by auditor Rick Bair.

Bair told the board that the district’s actual revenues for the year were 3.1 percent more than budgeted and expenses were 2.9 percent less, resulting in an excess $730,000 in revenue.

He said the district’s general fund balance was $7.79 million as of June 30, which is the minimum recommended level for a district of Penns Valley’s size.

“It represents a very healthy position for the school district to be in,” Bair said.

Bair warned the board of pending increases in how much school districts will have to contribute to employee retirement funds.

“I’m looking for that to put almost every school district into a negative position once that hits,” he said.

The district’s reserve funds, however, give it some protection against unexpected costs.

“If something bad happened, if you had a boiler break, and you had to spend a half million, you can do that immediately ... instead of looking to borrow,” Bair said. “Part of it is just a good business model.”

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

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