Seven candidates are running for three spots on the McSwain Union Elementary School District board.
Halpin, a 16-year veteran of the board, is looking to stay on for another four years.
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“I’m a proven commodity,” Halpin said of his candidacy for the board. “You know what you’re getting when you get me. I still want to move forward; we’ve got a lot of things to do.”
Halpin is a lifelong Merced resident and currently works as a professor and head swimming/water polo coach at Merced College.
He graduated from Merced High and holds a master’s degree from Fresno State.
He has two daughters and two sons, all of whom graduated from McSwain.
“I’ve lived in the community. I’ve seen McSwain change from a rural school. I’ve been there when the budgets have been real tight and I’ve been there when we’ve built new schools,” he said when asked for his qualifications for re-election.
Halpin has taught junior high, high school and college students over 37 years.
As a proud grandfather of two, “I want to make sure they will get the same opportunities as their parents,” he said. “We need to give our kids the best that we can offer.”
Koehn, 39, is running his first campaign for school board. A lifelong McSwain area resident, he works as a regional sales manager and a rancher.
He decided to enter the election for his two-year-old daughter.
“I’m running to hopefully make sure McSwain is for my little girl what it was for me,” he said. “Especially given the current challenges of state budgets.”
If elected, Koehn felt he’d bring “a diverse set of professional and personal experiences both corporate and professional to the school and community I grew up in,” he said.
Koehn said dealing with the state budget will be a time-consuming task for the new board, but creative allocation of those funds that are received is most important.
“Preserving McSwain’s quality education and track record of student achievement through difficult times and helping to lead it into the next era of solid performance” is critical, he said.
Machado, 47, has served on the board for 16 years.
A farm owner, he graduated from McSwain and Atwater High School.
His three children all attended McSwain and have graduated from high school.
“My experience for the last 16 years on the board and knowing the McSwain area is my qualification,” he said. “ It is unique and knowing the people and how things are run out here, that’s important.”
Machado said the biggest issue for the new board will be state funding.
“I don’t see California getting much better financially in the next few years,” he said.
Machado said he wanted to keep an eye on the number of students in each class which has increased to 36 in some classrooms, he said.
Melo, a sheriff’s correctional officer and Atwater resident, filed election paperwork on Aug. 7.
Several phone calls to the phone number listed by the elections office were not returned.
Morrow, the final incumbent candidate, has served on the board for 12 years.
He’s running again because “there’s just some more stuff that I need to do,” he said.
Specifically, he wants schoolchildren to understand the importance of their studies. “McSwain’s at the top of the heap academically,” Morrow said. “But I think a lot of (students) can’t see what all of this is for. They are engaged in their academics, but I want them to look forward to their future and start planning for it.”
Morrow retired from the Air Force in 1991 and all three of his children went to McSwain.
Maintaining current programs will be the most important task for the new board, Morrow said.
““We’ve been very conservative with our money, so this downturn is not hurting us near as bad as other districts. Obviously, we will need to continue pinching pennies,” he said.
Penner, 65, retired in 2005 after 33 years with the City of Merced. She last worked as the city’s director of support services, which oversees personnel issues.
This is her first campaign for school board.
“I’m really concerned due to the tight economy,” she said, explaining her decision to run for election.
Having worked in city government for so long, she wanted to give back to her community in a professional way, she said.
“I think I’m honest and compassionate and knowledgeable, and I want to provide a bright future for all of the children,” she said.
Penner’s experience with board governance, budgeting, budget oversight, dealing with the public and her decision-making ability, will boost the entire board, she said.
Whitfield, 25, decided to run for the board after a life-changing experience.
“I had some scary events that happened in my life; I just got over a battle with cancer,” he said. “It made me realize that I need to get involved in the community. I just realized that I need to serve and I need to give back to the community that gave me so much in life.”
A business owner, rancher and Department of Justice information systems tech, this is the first time he has run for the school board.
Whitfield is from the Plainsburg area, but his wire, Amy, attended McSwain. Her great grandfather served on the school board, Whitfield said.
He said the new school board will need to find “creative ways to bridge those gaps in state spending to help our schools return to a status as being the best in America.”
He doesn’t have children of his own yet, but deeply cares about others in the community.
“I believe in core family values and a quality education for all children,” he said. “I want to make sure the tradition of excellence for McSwain schools continues far into the future.”
Reporter Danielle E. Gaines can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.