The three winners of the Nov. 7 Pickerington Board of Education election said they'll focus on student achievement in their upcoming terms, and they all believe finances will play an important role in district success.

Lori Sanders won her sixth term on the board and board President Vanessa Niekamp was re-elected to a second term. Former board member Clay Lopez will return to the board after a four-year hiatus.

"I am thrilled to be re-elected to the board," Sanders said. "It is humbling to know that the community believes that I still have many contributions to be made to the success of our students and district."

Niekamp said, "I am grateful the community has given me another term on the board to represent them.

"I am proud of all our accomplishments from my first term: increasing music, art, gym, and technology at every grade level."

Lopez, who was appointed to the board in 2008 and subsequently won a full term, lost in November 2013 after a recount that saw him beat out by Cathy Olshefski by four votes.

He said he thinks his experience will allow for a smooth transition back onto the five-member board, and added, "I am grateful for the opportunity to serve the students and families of Pickerington Local School District once again.

"This election was a completely different experience for me as a write-in candidate," Lopez said.

"All elections are challenging, but this election was especially challenging with seven candidates vying for three positions. I ran again because I want the district to excel and the students to succeed at the highest levels."

According to unofficial final results from the Fairfield County Board of Elections, Sanders received 4,960 votes (38.5 percent), Niekamp received 4,274 (33.2 percent) and Lopez won the third seat after receiving 1,115 (8.7 percent) of the vote as a write-in candidate.

The terms of board members Keith Kristoff Jr. and Michelle Waterhouse expire Dec. 31, 2019.

It wasn't known that Lopez won his seat until after 11 p.m. Nov. 8, because board of elections officials had to hand count the write-in votes cast for him fellow write-in candidates Nick Derksen, David Horton, Mark Kenney and E. Gayle Saunders.

Each of the write-ins submitted petitions to run after incumbent board member Cathy Olshefski and would-be challengers Jaclyn Rohaly and Pryestt Strickland were disqualified by the board of elections because their candidate filing information fell short of state guidelines.

Sauders received 833 votes (6.5 percent); Derksen, 789 (6.1 percent); Horton, 597 (4.6 percent); and Mark Kenney, 301 (2.3 percent).

Each of the winning candidates pointed to student achievement as being a top priority for the next four years, but noted the importance financial stability will play in both student achievement and overall district success.

"As I talked about through the campaign, in the role of a board member, one has to think big picture and remain on track in knowing that student achievement is always No. 1," Sanders said.

"We have work to do and improvements to make because of the constant changes, but we have hired the best people to make that happen for us.

"Whether we like to focus on it or not the reality is that the No. 2 issue is always finances. We have had a great run in terms of staying off the ballot for operating dollars and we expect that to continue for the next few years. This does not happen in a vacuum or at the hand of any one person."

Lopez echoed those sentiments, and noted district Treasurer Ryan Jenkins' latest five-year forecast shows the district has a good financial outlook, but administrators and the board must make sure economic circumstances don't change and negatively impact classroom achievement.

"I want to ensure that our students have all of the tools necessary to be successful," Lopez said.

"We have an amazing teaching staff throughout the district. I want to provide the teachers the resources necessary to enable the best instruction to each student for maximum achievement.

"I will work with the administration to ensure that we are in a strong financial position to allow our district funds to be translated directly into student achievement."

Niekamp took a slightly different stance, saying the district must be selective in how it spends money to support classroom success and the well being of students.

"We need to develop a budget that best aligns our resources with student achievement goals, and focus on enhancing student wellness, mental health and drug (and) alcohol prevention programs," she said.

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