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Wednesday
November 20th, 2019

actual usd 480 logo ROBERT PIERCE • Leader & Times

 

Results are not official, but voters went to the polls Tuesday to pick four members for the USD 480 Board of Education.

A canvass to make the count of those votes official will take place Monday, and that count could change the outcome of the race slightly.

However, as the unofficial results show, four challengers took home the top prize against the four incumbents, but current USD 480 board members Cliff Abbott and Steve Helm still have a chance of getting re-elected pending Monday’s canvass.

Challenger Naomi Vargas had 661 votes, finishing third place, and fellow challenger Mike Brack had 646 votes, finishing just two votes ahead of Abbott for the fourth place spot. Helm was only 10 votes behind Brack with 636 votes, meaning any additional votes found from Monday’s canvass could easily change the result.

Challenger and former McDermott Elementary School Principal Kathy Fitzgerald was the top vote getter Tuesday with 1,185 ballots cast in her favor. She said the results from the election were unexpected for her.

“I was very surprised and humbled by the turnout,” she said. “I never expected anything at all close to that. I want to do the best I can for those who voted for me.”

Fitzgerald said she is going into the start of her term, as the rest of the eventual winners are, with a bit of a “learning curve.”

“I know I have a lot to learn, and from the outside looking in, any position can look easy and you can second guess,” she said. “I don’t have an agenda. I just want to do what’s best for all of our students in USD 480. Wherever that leads me, that’s where I’ll go, but I need to learn the position first before I say ‘This is what I plan to do.’”

Fitzgerald said she is looking to see what the cooperation level of having new board members in place will look like.

“I’m one of seven board members,” she said. “You can voice your opinion, that’s what being on the board is, but you have to work with the other six. I hope we can be a board that can work together, and I fully expect us to be. There’s going to be a lot of new members, a lot of us with a learning curve ahead of us.”

Though the results of Tuesday’s election could be changed with the canvass, Brack said he too is looking forward to becoming a member should the count stand in his favor after Monday.

“I’m humbled and thankful for the support of the people who voted for me,” he said. “If the votes add up, I’m ready to get to work in January. I’ll be doing a lot of stuff trying to get prepared to be ready to go to work in January.”

Brack said his top priority should he be elected is to take care of taxpayer money in an efficient way.

“One of my big goals is to make sure the spending is in a fiscally responsible way,” he said.

Vargas, a former USD 480 educator, was also pleased with the results of Tuesday’s race.

“I was happy,” she said. “I was thrilled, it was what I was working for. I was worried because I know a lot of people vote by name recognition, and I tried as hard as I could to get my name out there short of knocking on doors. I did as much as I could. I wish I could have done a little bit better, but like I said, part of this is about name recognition.”

Though she was the top vote getter in the race for third and fourth that is still too close to make official, like Fitzgerald, Vargas said she is going into her potential term willing to be educated on being a board member.

“I’ve got a lot to learn,” she said. “There’s no two ways about that, first of all. And there are the rules of order. That’s going to be number one right there. What’s best for the students and the teachers is to create a culture of trust between the board and the teachers. When there are curriculum ideas or processes brought before the board, I’ll be able to use my background knowledge and experience and help guide the board on what would be best for our kids.”

Local voters also chose three members for the Liberal City Commission, and with both the USD 480 and city commission races, Vargas feels the issue of finances was heavy on the minds of people at the polls.

“I think that was a huge concern,” she said. “I’ve got a lot to learn, but I’m looking forward to it. I know I’m not going to make everybody happy, and it’s not just about me. There’s other votes there.”

A fourth challenger, Sarah Mersdorf-Foreman, finished second behind Fitzgerald with 721 votes in the unofficial count. Current board member Royce Kitts finished seventh amongst the candidates with 560 votes, and Travis Combs, who recently resigned from the board to take a job in Washington D.C., got 231 votes cast in his favor.

USD 480 also had a race for an unexpired term on the school board. Current member Stewart Cauble was the lone candidate there and took home all of the 1,206 votes cast in that race.

Mersdorf-Foreman could not be reached for comment as of press time.

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