By Madelynn Coldiron
Sixty-seven Kentucky school board incumbents did not file for re-election this time around, and Elizabethtown Independent’s Tony Kuklinski never intended to be among them.
He knew the filing deadline with his county clerk’s office was 4 p.m. Sept. 14, but he arrived too late.
“When they said I had missed the time frame, I looked up at the clock – it was right behind them in the clerk’s office – and it was three minutes after 4,” Kuklinski said. “And I wasn’t going to make a scene – I mean, there are rules in place for a purpose.”
He said he’s disappointed for himself, his constituents and his school district. “The bottom line is, I screwed up and should have paid more attention to it,” he said.
Kuklinski said he wasn’t as focused as he should have been due to some upcoming surgery, on top of Elizabethtown traffic pattern changes that delayed him that afternoon.
No one ended up filing for his seat and he hopes to be appointed to the vacancy by the state Education Commissioner Terry Holliday.
Statewide, 86 percent of incumbents also hope to continue their work for another four years. That compares with 82 percent of incumbents who filed for another term during the last comparable election four years ago. In this election cycle, two seats are up for election in most independent districts, while three are up in county districts.
As always, there are variations caused by appointees to unexpired terms who also must run in the general election. In all, 477 seats will be decided.
Of those incumbents who are seeking another term, 33 percent of them are facing opposition – and nearly a quarter of those face multiple challengers. That’s slightly less than 2008, when 37 percent had a race on their hands.
In all, there are 23 districts in which the board majority could change through open seats or contested seats or a combination. On the flip side, 58 districts will see no change at all in their makeup, a significantly higher number than the 34 boards where all incumbents filed unchallenged in 2008.
The state education commissioner will have to make appointments in seven districts, where no one filed for an open seat, about the same number as the last three comparable cycles. Besides Elizabethtown Independent, those are Frankfort and Silver Grove independents and Carroll, Fulton, Spencer and Trimble county districts.
Hot spots and not-so-hot spots
Significant change will occur in several districts in which all those up for re-election chose to retire from board service. Among them is Jefferson County, where three members decided not to run again, leaving a plentiful ballot field of 16 people. No incumbents chose to run in these districts as well: Anchorage (which also had this distinction in the 2008 election), Bardstown and Science Hill independents, and Fulton and Spencer county districts.
The polar opposite situation is in Mason County, where all five current board members are on the ballot, three for regular terms and two appointees. Only one faces opposition, however.
There is a potential for big change in the dozen districts in which every incumbent ran and attracted a challenge, such as in Clay County, whose former superintendent recently drew a prison term for crimes unrelated to school business. All three incumbents have opposition, one of them facing three challengers.
In Oldham County, all four incumbents – one an appointee – on the ballot will be joined by candidates who seek to unseat them. The situation is similar in Madison County, where four incumbents – including two appointees – have drawn opposition. One of them has four challengers, but that is dwarfed by the six opponents that one Scott County incumbent faces. All three school board office holders in the Scott County district, in which citizen groups recently have been vocal, are in a race.
A couple of northern Kentucky districts have generated a seemingly disproportionate share of candidates, with eight newcomers on the ballot in Covington Independent, where three seats will be decided, and Newport Independent, where voters will chose from among 10 candidates in four seats. Four of the 10 are incumbents. Covington’s races made headlines when a board member resigned but her resignation had not been officially accepted by the state education commissioner before the filing deadline. That resulted in the seat not being on the ballot – which in turn prompted a lawsuit against the county clerk by a would-be candidate who had wanted to file for that seat.
In the category of candidates with prior exposure to a school system, a former employee is seeking a seat on the Bullitt County board. In Bellevue Independent, former longtime board member Joe Egan, who was defeated four years ago, is making another try for one of two seats against two incumbents.
One of the challengers in a Madison County race is a leader in the anti-tax group that has heavily criticized the superintendent. In a less controversial bid for a seat, the retired high school principal and football coach is one of four people, including one incumbent, seeking one of two seats on the Somerset Independent board.
Steve Knight, who is in line to be elected to the Owensboro Independent school board as an unopposed newcomer, has plenty of exposure to school systems, though not Owensboro. Knight is a retired superintendent of Marshall County Schools.
Like the Energizer bunny, the state’s longest-serving board member just keeps going. Shirley Treadway has filed for another term on the Barbourville Independent Board of Education, which will propel him into his 53rd year of service if he retains the seat.
But the most unusual contested race has to be in Martin County, where the local newspaper editor has filed for the seat now held by two-term incumbent Clifford Keener. Mountain Citizen editor Gary Ball is the same journalist whose Open Records Act request earlier this year resulted in the state attorney general’s office finding that the school district violated the law by declining to release written and electronic communications between board members and the superintendent.