Political signs are seen from the entrance of St. Peter's Lutheran Church, which hosts the 16th and 3rd precincts, Tuesday, November 2, 2021.

Democrats running for school board in Manheim Township got a slight boost from the final batch of mail-in votes that were counted Thursday, but it wasn’t enough to change the overall results in a municipal election that saw key Republican victories across the county, particularly in school board races.

Democrat and current school board President Nikki Rivera, who, as of Wednesday, was just 25 votes away from being unseated by Republican Kyle Hunt, expanded her lead to 124 votes over Hunt with the added mail-in votes. Rivera ended up with 6,248 votes, tied with Republican Erin Hoffman. Hunt had 6,124.

In total, 120 ballots in Manheim Township were counted on Thursday.

The two other Democratic incumbents -- John Smith and Joyce Stephens -- inched closer to keeping their seats but ultimately fell short.

Smith, who trailed Republican Keith Krueger by 155 votes on Wednesday, ended Thursday behind by only 64. Smith and Krueger battled it out for an open two-year seat, while the other four open seats came with four-year terms.

Stephens, currently the school board vice president, added 108 votes -- going from 5,910 to 6,018 -- on Thursday. That was still 230 votes behind Rivera and Hoffman.

Failing to eclipse 6,000 votes, despite adding votes on Thursday, were each of the other two Democrats on the ballot, Terrance Henderson and Adam Hosey. 

Rivera on Thursday said she was glad to hold onto her seat, but she was disappointed that her slate mates couldn’t eke out a victory. Rivera, Smith and Stephens were among the six Democrats in 2017 who flipped the school board from red to blue, in part due to their support of the Manheim Township Middle School project, which has since finished. The school board will now have six Republicans and three Democrats.

“It’s been a productive four years, and I think we were really hoping that we were going to keep that going,” Rivera said.

What’s also disappointing, Rivera said, was all the “mythbusting” she and her slate had to do on the campaign trail. Rivera said she spent a lot of time addressing concerns about issues such as critical race theory, which is not included in Manheim Township School District’s curriculum -- or any Lancaster County school curriculum, for that matter.

“I think people came out in droves because they were trying to head off what wasn’t happening anyway,” she said.

Despite the disappointment, Rivera said she’s ready to work with the new board when it’s formed in December.

“We’re going to do what a board is supposed to do, which is make school business happen in the most civil way possible,” she said, adding that a key issue moving forward will be ensuring the district has the resources and facilities in place to serve a student population surging toward 6,000.

While she hasn’t had much interaction with the Republican board members-elect, Rivera said she’s happy she didn’t face any personal assaults during the campaign.

In 2017, the school board election was particularly heated, as candidates on both sides debated using taxpayer dollars to build the new middle school.

“I thought 2017 was cruel and brutal, and I’m glad myself and my slate mates for school board didn’t have to endure what went on in 2017,” she said.

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