By Madelynn Coldiron
Clifford Wallace said when just two people filed for the three seats on the Williamstown Independent school board, “I just hated to see them have to go through the process of trying to appoint somebody. I just didn’t want the wrong kind of person to get on the board who was negative or whatever.”
So on the last day to file as a write-in candidate, Wallace, former superintendent of the district, turned in his paperwork and on Nov. 4, he was elected, receiving 64 votes.
Wallace acknowledges feeling a bit protective of the system he led for eight-plus years and wants to support it. “I had a very good experience there at Williamstown when I was their superintendent,” he said. In fact, he said, he hired the current superintendent, Sally Skinner, “and she’s doing an excellent job.”
Wallace, who retired in 2003 from Williamstown Independent, also served as superintendent in his native Pendleton County. He said he wouldn’t have filed for school board had anyone else been interested in the seat. As to how it will feel being on the other side of the board table:
“I’m going to try my best to keep my mouth shut,” he said, laughing.
Wallace is among the 123 newly minted school board members in 91 districts who won seats in the Nov. 4 election – of that number, 81 had to fend off competition. That competition included 47 incumbents who, as a result, will not be returning come January. Among those are several with more than 20 years of service (see chart). A slightly larger percentage of incumbents were not able to hang onto their seats compared with 2010, the previous two county seat, three independent seat election cycle. Fewer incumbents ran this time around.
County districts in which both incumbents lost are Adair, Bell, Christian, Elliott, Livingston, Magoffin and Trimble. There were no three-incumbent losses among the independent districts; only Fairview lost two incumbents among a seven-candidate field.
The number of new board members who will be seated is the largest in this type of cycle since 2002, when 128 newbies came aboard. However, a total of 73 boards will continue with the same membership come January, counting those in which incumbents had no opposition and those in which incumbents had races and won. That compares with 83 intact boards the last time around. In addition, the membership of nine other boards will change soon, but not because of the election: seats in those districts failed to attract a candidate and the state education commissioner will be making appointments to fill them.
It’s not unusual for one or two former school board members to make a repeat appearance each election, but this time, voters elected at least seven “new” people who had previous service.
A longtime educator at both the state and district levels won one of two open seats on the Montgomery County school board. Bill Morgan formerly served as Bath County Schools superintendent and interim superintendent in Fleming County Schools, and led a KDE scholastic audit team for a dozen years. Morgan, who faced two opponents, also was a teacher, principal and coach in the Montgomery County district. One of his opponents was a district employee, which would have generated a legal issue had she been elected.
While Morgan and Williamstown’s Wallace may have joined Woodford County’s Paul Stahler and Owensboro Independent’s Steve Knight as ex-superintendents serving on school boards, Sam Dick will not do likewise. Dick, who recently retired as superintendent of the Caverna Independent school district, finished last among six candidates there.
Other election tidbits:
• School closures may have been at least one factor in a couple of districts. In Graves County, where the closing of a tiny elementary school prompted a lawsuit, two of the plaintiffs in the suit failed to win a seat in their divisions. One of the victorious incumbents, however, had pointed to her vote against the school closure in campaigning. School closing issues may also have been a factor in incumbent defeats in Christian County and Jenkins Independent.
• The nonresidency contract dispute between Bowling Green Independent and Warren County districts didn’t produce any major changes at the polls. The two Bowling Green incumbents running for the two slots beat back one challenger. Warren County’s board chairman, Kerry Young, meanwhile, bested his opposition. The second seat was an open race in which the winner had said she would have resolved the nonresidency conflict quicker and is concerned about the legal fees incurred.
• The Livingston County school board will be losing more than 30 years of experience with the defeat of the two longtime incumbents who were seeking re-election, Ronica Woodward with 16 years and Vice Chairman Michael Joiner with 20 years over two stints. Similarly, two veteran board members were defeated in Magoffin County, Judy Isaac with 16 years and Vice Chairman Carl Howard, who was seeking a fourth term.
• There were some squeakers: In Lyon County, board Vice Chairman Denny Gray won a sixth term by just three votes. The challenger in one of the Graves County races came within eight votes of incumbent Susan Barton, a retired teacher who was appointed to the seat in 2013.
• Financial turmoil in Fayette County Schools did not negatively affect the incumbents, as Amanda Ferguson and Doug Barnett won their races, Ferguson over a Kentucky Department of Education consultant and Barnett over an associate professor of education at Eastern Kentucky University. Both incumbents had raised questions following a critical state audit of the district’s finances.
• The sole holdover from the now-defunct Monticello Independent school board won election to a seat on the merged Wayne County school board. Nancy Duncan bested two opponents.
• Sally Sugg, a former associate commissioner in the Kentucky Department of Education, defeated longtime Henderson County board member Greg Hunsaker. Sugg also served as a principal in the district before retiring.
Comparing the numbers*
Incumbents won 281 (86 %) 314 (90 %)
Incumbents opposed 106 118
Incumbents lost 47 (44 %) 47 (40 %)
New board members 123 116
Unchanged boards 73 83
*Three-seat independent, two-seat county board elections
Longtime board members who did not win re-election
Sally Fooks, Robertson County
Carol Ann Haddad, Jefferson County
28 years (total)
Glendon Lear, Jackson County
Durward Narramore, Jenkins Independent
Michael Joiner, Livingston County
20 years (total)