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Three newcomers to gain majority on Helendale school board

The face of Helendale School District's board of directors will be changing in January, following the election Tuesday of three newcomers.

Helendale School District had two long-term seats and one short-term seat open in the race.

In the race for long-term seats, Maria Ferrin, a law enforcement officer, took first place with a margin of 5.93 percentage points over Jennifer Funt, a community volunteer. Ferrin and Funt will fill the long-term seats.

“I look forward to getting involved and doing some good in the school,” Ferrin said, as results came in on Tuesday.

As preliminary results came in Tuesday night, incumbent Valeria Brown appeared to be leading over Funt. However, once all precincts were counted Wednesday morning, Funt had secured her spot by a 2.55 percentage point lead, according to unofficial final reports.

“I feel positive,” Funt said of the victory. “My No. 1 priority is the children.”

In the race for the third short-term seat, Frank Melendez maintained a substantial lead over appointed incumbent Donald Langille. According to unofficial final results, Melendez won with a margin of 26.08 percentage points.

According to Funt, she ran together with Ferrin and Melendez to fill the three open seats, endorsed by the teachers of Helendale School District.

Board President Herm Engelhardt, who was not up for re-election, expressed concern over the fact that unions backed the three new board members and helped finance their campaigns, as Ferrin, Funt and Melendez will have the majority vote on the school district when they take office in January. The new members will join Engelhardt and board member Barbara Schneider, who is also still serving out her term.

Funt feels the support of teachers is crucial for a school board member, as children cannot be educated without teachers. According to Funt, some of the funding for her campaign did come from the teachers’ unions.

“As far as being a school board member, having the endorsement of the teachers is important,” Funt said. “I’m very professional, and I look at all sides. The teachers definitely need support, but we’re also here for the policies and the administration.”

Ferrin and Melendez could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The district’s hefty debt became a key campaign issue. However, in the last months of their terms, Engelhardt said the current school board is planning to put in place a restructuring deal that will reduce the school’s debt.

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