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Four newcomers win Franklin Regional seats

| Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013, 12:27 a.m.

In a Franklin Regional School Board race that pitted conservative Republican newcomers against incumbent moderate Republicans and one Democrat, the conservatives swept the field.

With all nine precincts reporting, Jeremy Samek was top vote-getter, with 14.6 percent of the 17,209 votes that were cast. He will take the oath of office next month with Gregg Neavin, with 13.8 percent of the vote; Susan Ilgenfritz, 13.7 percent; and George Harding, 13 percent.

That Murrysville-Export Republican Committee-endorsed quartet bested incumbent Kimberly Bondi, who garnered 11.7 percent of the votes; incumbent Dennis Irvine, 11.1 percent; Democrat Bobbi Watt Geer, 11 percent; and two-term incumbent Paul Scheinert, 10.7 percent.

Results are unofficial until confirmed by the Westmoreland County Election Bureau.

There were four open seats on the nine-member board.

Samek, 31, is a business attorney with Eckert, Seamans, Cherin & Mellot. Neavin, 58, is a senior account executive at Comcast Spotlight. Ilgenfritz, 41, is a membership sales representative at AAA East Central. And Harding, 66, is a retired engineer.

Irvine, a retired teacher who is wrapping up his first term on school board, said he was disappointed but not surprised by the “very discouraging” voter turnout.

“I think it was obvious that the straight (Republican) party ticket was pulled solidly,” Irvine said.

“For us to have had a chance to win, we had to get to our target audience of parents of kids in our schools to vote, and we didn't.”

He credited his opponents' win to the turnout of an older constituency that doesn't have children in the schools.

Voter turnout percentages in the district were not immediately available. Because voters could cast up to four votes for school board, it's uncertain how many people actually cast the 17,206 votes in the election.

Noting that he and his wife moved to the area because of the Franklin Regional's reputation, Irvine said he was proud to contribute to the district's stability and academic excellence.

He said the four newcomers will have hard decisions ahead of them.

“Now, they're on the other side and they'll see what it's like,” Irvine said.

“Hopefully, they'll do what's in the best interest of the kids and the school district.”

Ilgenfritz was delighted by results and appreciative of her supporters.

“I feel so humble. I'm very excited,” she said.

“This race was a bit contentious. I'm just so thankful.”

She noted that the race grew heated in the weeks leading up to the general election.

“You know, from the primary, I thought it would get a bit contentious, but this is the first time I ever ran for anything, so it was very ... I don't if ‘shocking' is the correct term, but I was surprised by how everything turned out. I'm thrilled.”

Though Irvine said he thought older voters who were more concerned with finances were the key to the Republican ticket's win, Ilgenfritz didn't buy it.

“School board is bipartisan,” she said. “It doesn't really matter if you're Republican or Democrat. The issues were fiscal responsibility and top-quality education.

Geer obviously was disappointed.

“Certainly, it wasn't the outcome I had hoped for,” Geer said.

“I'm not quite sure what else to say about that. I tried to communicate my message of being an advocate for public education.”

Geer, who has a doctorate in public administration and public policy, said even though she wasn't elected to school board, she would continue to focus on issues regarding academic excellence both professionally and as a resident of Franklin Regional.

As is common in school board elections, all eight candidates cross-filed in the spring primary in hopes of winning nominations from both parties.

The primary failed to eliminate a single candidate, instead serving only to separate the more conservative newcomers from the incumbents and the lone Democrat.

Brian Estadt is a news editor with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bestadt@tribweb.com.

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