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North Hills

Former North Hills school director picked to fill board of education vacancy

Tony LaRussa
| Friday, Sept. 7, 2018, 1:42 p.m.
Arlene Bender
Arlene Bender
Timothy Burnett
Timothy Burnett

A former school board member has been tapped to fill the vacancy created by the death of long-time school director Arlene Bender, who was the board vice president.

Tim Burnett, who served on the board from 2001 to 2013 will serve the remainder of Bender’s term, which runs through 2019. Bender, who served on the board for nearly 35 years, died on Aug. 12. She was 75.

Burnett, 64, was the board president in 2005, 2012 and 2013 and was vice president for three one-year terms. He did not seek re-election in 2013.

This is the second time Burnett will fill a vacancy on the board.

“I am honored to be given the opportunity to once again serve the students, staff and community of North Hills School District,” Burnett said in an emailed statement. “Over the years, I have thoroughly enjoyed serving on the board, and I look forward to doing so again.”

In March 2015, the board voted unanimously to appoint Burnett to fill the unexpired term of Jeff Meyer, who resigned after frequent absences from board meetings because of his work commitments.

Burnett served through the end of 2015 and ran unsuccessfully for a full four-year term.

The vote to appoint Burnett was 5-2, with board members Dee Spade and Allison Mathis casting the dissenting vote. Board member Tom Kelly was absent from the meeting.

Spade said her vote against Burnett “was not personal.”

“I had someone else in mind,” she said, but declined to say who she wanted for the position.

Burnett was the only candidates nominated to fill the seat.

Mathis said she voted against Burnett because she “never had the opportunity to meet him.”

The state and the school district have no specific policies governing how board vacancies should be filled, according to solicitor Mike Witherel.

Boards can use any number of ways to fill a post, including nominating and voting on an eligible candidate, which was the process North Hills used, or advertising for candidates and conducting interview to fill the spot.

“The only real rule they have to follow is that an appointment must be made within 30 days a seat being vacated,” Witherel said.

If a vacancy is not filled within 30 days, residents can petition the courts to make the appointment, the solicitor said.

The only qualifications to be elected or appointed to serve on a school board is that a person be at least 18 years old, a resident of the district for at least a year and be of good moral character, according to the Pennsylvania School Board Association.

There are, however, several restrictions for serving, including conviction of an “infamous crime,” which has been interpreted as all felonies and certain misdemeanors.

In a separate action prior to Burnett’s appointment, the school directors voted unanimously for Spade to replace Bender as the board’s vice president.

Bender was a retired real-estate agent and former teacher. She served on the North Hills School Board for four years in the 1980s and rejoined the board in 1991.

Burnett works as a health-care administrator for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tony at 724-772-6368 or tlarussa@tribweb.com or via Twitter @TonyLaRussaTrib.

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