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2 challengers, 4 incumbents running for South Butler School Board

| Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Nelda Burd
Dale Fennell
Bob Goodlin
James Jones
Rachelle Rankin
Richard Sefton

Two Jefferson Township residents who are new to politics are challenging four South Butler School Board members in the May 21 primary for their seats on the board.

The incumbents say they bring valuable experience to the board as the district continues to deal with a tight budget and stringent federal education requirements.

The newcomers believe they would lend a fresh perspective and have a better connection with students because of their involvement in the district either personally or through their children.

Rachelle Rankin, 24, a 2006 Knoch High School graduate recently moved back to the area after earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Edinboro University.

She encourages voters to think about how having a young person on the board could benefit the district.

“I went to school there, I see what happens there, I know a lot of the teachers, from being younger,” Rankin said. “I might be able to relate to the students a little better.”

Based on her own experience, she believes a strong focus on academics and assessment testing needs to be tempered by extracurricular activities.

“We were all in clubs and sports and marching band. That's where I made a lot of my friends,” Rankin said. “I think you need to keep students active (because) if you keep them involved, it makes them a well-rounded student.”

School board President Nelda Burd, 58, of Clinton Township said she takes pride in South Butler's academic achievements, such as being the only district in Butler County to meet state targets in all schools.

She acknowledges teachers' role in that success and said she has built a rapport with the teachers' union.

“We've had very difficult contract negotiations in the past, and when the board elected me president, I was asked to take a very focused lead on attaining a contract,” Burd said of negotiations in 2009. “Since that time, I have worked really hard to build a more trusting, respectful relationship with our teachers' union.”

That relationship will be important when the teachers' contract expires next year, she said.

“I've laid a lot of groundwork and I'd like to see it through,” Burd said.

Longtime board members Richard Sefton, 58, of Clinton Township and James Jones, 64, of Penn Township said their decades on the board give them an important perspective based on past board action, as well.

Sefton is the board's self-proclaimed historian.

“When people are elected every four years, people forget what happened 12 years ago … and they want to repeat the same error,” he said. “I'm just there to do what's right and to try to keep the education system running on all cylinders.”

And Jones said he wants to continue to hold the board to high standards when it comes to fiscal accountability.

“For the last 10 years, I have not voted in favor of the school district budget or increasing taxes,” he said.

Jones said he doesn't think it's fair that the school district has to pass a budget by June 30, before the state sets its budget, which includes school district funding allocations.

“We're forced to pass a budget based on assumptions,” he said. “I don't think that's responsible, and I have refused to do it.”

Political newcomer Bob Goodlin, 42, owner of Goodlin Pools in Jefferson Township, said being on the school board isn't just about contracts, budgets and test scores.

He said he'd like to create a better connection between the district and community.

As a business owner and involvement in the district's athletics programs, he thinks he can bridge that gap.

“With my ability to lead in these various organizations, when the election came around I just felt that it was a good place for me to serve our children, not just on an athletic level, but an academic level,” Goodlin said. “I feel that this is a place where I can step in and be a voice and really help out.”

He and incumbent Dale Fennell, 44, of Penn Township, a board member since 1995, share the idea that decisions should be made based on what is in the best interest of the students and community.

“I am opened-minded and do what's best for them,” Fennell said. “I still want to try to make a difference for the school. I want to see good things happen for the community.”

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or jweigand@tribweb.com.

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