Politics & Government

Voters Guide | Penns Valley Area school board



Question: Schools never seem to have enough funding. As a board member in the Penns Valley Area School District, what would you do to address this continuing issue?

At large (Two-year term)

(Vote for one.)


Joseph T. Ebeling

Date of birth: Feb. 19, 1964

Education: Bachelor of Science in administration of justice; construction courses at Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology and SUN Tech

Occupation: Self-employed contractor, residential construction

Qualifications: I have led many building projects, from small remodels to the building of whole houses. I’ve had to coordinate projects with customers, subcontractors and code officials to ensure the completion of projects on time and in good order. While I can do most everything that involves the building of a residential house, I also find pleasure in working with a team of subcontractors that can help me in the completion of a job. In turn, I have experience in working with building budgets and keeping a project on track financially. Volunteer for Penns Valley Conservation Association Spring Bank Clean-Up and Crickfest, and Millheim Fire Company OctoberFest.

Answer to question: With the economy slow to recover from a recession, I have watched as the school board tries, and eventually constructs, more buildings, even while the whole of the student population is declining. The current multipurpose gymnasium was paid for by reserve cash, which is tax money, but there is still the issue of future maintenance and upkeep. Taxes did not go up this year but will remain an issue, especially since there is a projected remodel of the high school coming in a few years. Funding of the school will not take as big a bite if we take care of what we need, instead of what we want.


Jeffrey Hyde

Date of birth: Nov. 30, 1971

Education: Master of Science and Ph.D. in agricultural economics, Purdue University; Bachelor of Science in economics, Frostburg State University

Occupation: Professor of agricultural economics and extension program leader, Penn State

Qualifications: Spent last year and a half in a leadership role, overseeing a team of 25 people with a budget of approximately $2 million; for 13 years, taught farm, food and other agricultural business owners about decision-making processes, including budgeting, financial analysis, business planning and marketing planning; performed research to help business owners make decisions about purchasing different corn varieties and technologies such as robotic milking units, methane digesters.

Answer to question: Our board has developed a strategic plan that included new and upgraded facilities and technology purchases without raising the real estate tax in four of the past eight years. We have also saved millions of dollars by refinancing and paying down debt. My goal is to work with the other eight board members to find ways to reduce costs and take advantage of increased revenues from multiple sources, including the earned income tax, increased state contributions, and possibly grants and public philanthropic contributions. We have made tax increases a last resort, and I would like to continue that tradition.

At large

(Vote for not more than two.)


H. Mark Benfer

Date of birth: Sept. 20, 1957

Education: Penns Valley High School

Occupation: UPS

Qualifications: Penns Valley is my home and the home of my family. We have contributed as parents, barbers, bankers, a chiropractor, teachers, students and athletes. Family names include Benfer, Stapleton, Reish, Hull and Dillon. Our heritage is rich, as is Penns Valley’s, and I hope to maintain and improve on it by empowering every student/resident every day to reach individual success in an open, ethical and equal manner. Everyone. The Ram Community Centre disaster showed that as a community we could find our voice and as a community we can make a difference. I believe that should be a concern of our school board. I am, we are, Penns Valley.

Answer to question: For the last two years, it’s been common knowledge that teacher pensions present our biggest funding challenge. Spending valuable limited resources on inadequate construction projects doesn’t mean we’ve achieved educational excellence, and it pushes us further from meeting our future financial obligations. When elected, I suggest we start a pay-it-forward program to help prepare the district teacher pension funding shortfall. Instead of spending $9 million in tax dollar reserves on projects that might be nice and serve a few, why aren’t we doing what the hard-working people in Penns Valley do, which is measure twice and cut once.


David S. Braucht

Date of birth: May 10, 1961

Education: Associate degree, School of Health Care Sciences, Sheppard Air Force Base; insurance and security dealers license

Occupation: Surgical services technician, information services application specialist, Mount Nittany Medical Center

Qualifications: Being a Penns Valley taxpayer of seven generations, serving in the U.S. Air Force, then the community’s health care needs as a surgical technician, deacon and youth leader in a local church, raising two children through phases of public, private, home-school and special education, learning from 29 years of marriage, and now as an information services specialist assisting in the implementation of electronic medical records has prepared me to navigate the important responsibility of the community’s education.

Answer to question: Managing financial demands requires a balanced and realistic assessment of our needs to meet the responsibility of public education. Having a clear definition of what the community desires, education to include as well as its priorities to fund those areas, knowing where curriculum and extracurricular activities fall on that scale, as well as the cost for each, is a great place to start. Responsible debt reduction and commitment to “pay as you go” is always wise. Being committed to budgeting within the means of the taxpayers’ ability to support district growth needs to be our foundation. Community financial support of extracurricular activities and facilities that support those activities has become a first step for many districts to control rising costs.


Chris Houser

Date of birth: Jan. 25, 1969

Education: Master of science in agronomy, Penn State; bachelor of arts in social science, Lock Haven University

Occupation: Extension educator, agronomy, Penn State

Qualifications: When I started serving on the school board eight years ago, we had the highest school taxes in Centre County and average academic performance. The high school was in school improvement. Today, we have very high academic achievement and the lowest household tax burden in the county. We have “great schools and low taxes.” During my tenure as finance chairman, we cut the school district’s debt from over $30 million to $24 million. Penns Valley School District is the only district in the county that has not raised taxes in four of the last eight years. I spearheaded our transition from heating oil to the biomass system that is currently saving the district over $200,000 dollars a year.

Answer to question: I have a record dealing with tough funding situations. Back in 2008, when the state reduced our funding by over $800,000, we became more innovative with the biomass heating system and refinancing debt at significantly lower costs. We were more prudent with our revenue by cutting spending. We asked community members, parents and staff their ideas to help balance the budget. I made tough decisions, and we were able to do more with less and make cuts while increasing academic performance. I have chaired the finance committee for seven of the past eight years. I have the experience it takes to deal with the tough budgets.

Region 2

(Vote for one)


Henry Hank Yeagley

Education: Penn State graduate

Occupation: Farmer and technical service representative

Qualifications: Serves on Penns Valley board; serves as Penns Valley’s representative on the Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology board.

Answer to question: As a rural school district with limited resources, Penns Valley must manage its funds wisely and be alert for ways to reduce costs without compromising its schools’ above-average achievement.

Region 3

(Vote for one)


Victoria L. Brennan

Date of birth: August 1969

Education: Bachelor of Science in psychology, Penn State; professional personal training certification, NESTA

Occupation: Stay-at-home mother

Qualifications: Former director of a nonprofit, countywide, free family counseling program focusing on troubled teens; former president of the Aaronsburg Civic Club; former secretary for the Friends of the Aaronsburg Library; current board member on the Old Gregg School Community and Recreation center; community volunteer for Aaronsburg Dutch Fall Festival, Gala For HOPE, and the annual Shop with Heart Craft Fair to Benefit the HOPE fund.

Answer to question: We need to plan for the worst-case scenario and to be frugal. Our district already carries debt. We need community involvement — certain needs can be met through volunteers and fundraising. Mostly, we need to make sure our academic success is stellar. We need to make sure our student body can proficiently compete in the global market. We have to make this a school district that people want to move to. When families move here and students stay in the district, that increases our tax base and gives us more funding to continue to provide superior education to our students.


Amy Niewinski

Date of birth: April 16, 1972

Education: Master of Science in ecology, Penn State; Bachelor of Science in biology, Wilkes University

Occupation: Assistant teacher at Grace United Methodist Playschool, Centre Hall

Qualifications: Former environmental specialist for the Pyramid Lake Paiute Indian Tribe in Nevada; wrote and assisted with the management of multiple federal grant projects to complete natural resource work on the reservation; collaborated with local, state, federal and academic agencies to coordinate services and projects; former research specialist for Penn State, responsible for supervising the final woodlot vegetation surveys at Gettysburg National Military Park; volunteer in Penns Valley Elementary classrooms, Aaronsburg Civic Club and Penns Valley Little League; serve on the Centre County Library board of trustees and the Friends of the East Penns Valley Library board.

Answer to question: We can conservatively manage the financial resources of the district, and continuously evaluate our income and budget projections so we can anticipate future shortfalls. We have a five-year facilities plan that we use to estimate expenditures and plan accordingly. We have attained an excellent credit rating by being fiscally responsible in paying down debt and saving money that we put aside into reserve accounts. Every year, we evaluate our staffing needs and adjust accordingly. We need to prudently plan for the expected and the unexpected. We also need to communicate our financial situation with the public, outside of board meetings.