Former FBI agent brings critical thinking background to school board race
May 2, 2016
Thanks to a demanding career as an FBI agent, Petra Butler never had the time do some of the things many parents take for granted, like participating in the parent-teacher organization or community council at her child’s school.
Now that she’s retired, however, she’s looking to spend her newfound free time ensuring students in Park City get the best possible education. She is running for the District 3 seat on the Park City Board of Education. The district covers neighborhoods such as Park Meadows South, Park West, Silver Springs and Ranch Road South. Also vying for the seat are Moe Hickey, Kevin Kennedy and Art Brothers.
Butler said she has long understood the importance of education. And her career — she spent the last 21 years as a supervisory special agent with the FBI, dealing with cyber crime and internet predators — has let her get involved in schools in a roundabout way.
"I have done a lot of educating in schools and communities with regard to internet safety," she said. "I’m very passionate about children. I’ve been an advocate for them for a number of years, and I thought this was kind of a natural progression."
Butler is also running, in part, to bring change to the Board of Education. She said there were breakdowns in how the Board functioned during last year’s controversial bond campaign, and she hopes to remedy what she had identified as the problems.
"I think the bond was an eye-opening experience for everybody — not just the Board but for the community as a whole," she said. "I think there was an issue, first of all, with just getting information out. Communication was a huge issue. I think a lot of people didn’t understand what the bond was all about. I, myself, did not understand what was going to be done with the funds in regard to the bond."
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She also lamented a perceived lack of community engagement during the bond process. If elected, she would encourage the Board to be more proactive in reaching out to residents, rather than waiting for them to attend public meetings and events.
"Why doesn’t the school board come out to the public?" she said. "Why can’t they come out and do some sort of event at church or at a community area and let people understand what the issues are?"
Additionally, Butler wants the district to gather more input from teachers in its decision-making process. In her view, the Board too often makes decisions from the top down.
"Who’s with our children all day long, every single day?" she said. "I think we have to have an environment where teachers can feel comfortable and where they can express their concerns. I don’t think we have that current environment."
Despite identifying areas she’d like to focus on, Butler does not proclaim herself as an expert on all the issues. She said, however, that she would be a tireless learner, in order to make the most informed decisions and to properly educate the public.
Butler added that she understands change takes time, expressing a desire to work with the four other Board members to make it happen. She is hopeful that her perspective, as well as her abilities to make people feel heard and dig into the difficult issues, would quicken its pace.
"I come from a law enforcement background, from a very critical-thinking background, where I’ve had to put cases together to present to a jury," she said. "And your jury can know everything or your jury can know nothing. But you still have to get your message across. That is the bottom line, and I think that’s something that I bring."
Butler, along with Brothers, Kennedy and Hickey, will be on the June 28 primary ballot, where two candidates will be eliminated. The two with the most votes will move on to the November general election.
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