Spouses, superintendents among those seeking school board seats
Board makeup unchanged in nearly 30 percent of districts
Kentucky School Advocate
By Madelynn Coldiron
Simpson County school board member-to-be Jennifer Stone will not have far to look for help when she puzzles over a district financial report or needs some perspective on an issue. Come January, running unopposed, she will succeed her husband in the seat.
“He has had a true love for the community and just wanting to make sure our kids got what they needed,” she said. “I hope to carry that on.”
Wes Stone said he is not running for the seat he has held for two terms because the demands for time have conflicted with the position he took last year as pastor of Middleton Baptist Church. He said he did not ask his wife to run for his seat. “To be honest, I kind of stayed neutral,” he said. “I look at it this way: If she’s running for the board, she’s the one running, not me.”
Jennifer Stone said friends urged her to think about it, and now, “I’m looking forward to diving right in.”
Public education is not unfamiliar territory for her; besides watching her husband at work for the last eight years, she was active in the PTO at her daughter’s school for nine years until she reached high school, which does not have one. After that, “I felt kind of lost,” Stone said, but now she can channel that involvement to the school board.
Marital family ties hit a trifecta in the crop of candidates who filed for seats in the 2016 local school board elections statewide. In addition to the Simpson County case, in Bellevue Independent, Vanessa Groneck, a two-term incumbent, withdrew her candidacy and her husband, Chris Groneck, filed instead. And in Mason County, incumbent Kevin Fulton filed for a seat on the Maysville Board of Commissioners. His wife, Emily, has filed for his school board seat. He is serving his first term.
Statewide, 76 percent of incumbent school board members filed for re-election in this three-county seat, two-independent district seat cycle. That’s the lowest percentage in two decades (see related story). No incumbents at all filed in the Hickman and Mercer county school districts and the Fairview, Jenkins, Somerset and Danville independent systems.
Of those incumbents who filed, 27 percent face opposition. In the Carter, Floyd and Marion county districts, all three incumbents in each drew challengers and newcomer candidates outnumbered incumbents for at-large seats in Covington, Hazard, Middlesboro, Newport, Owensboro and Walton-Verona independents.
On the flip side, membership on a total of 49 school boards will remain unchanged come January – all incumbents filed and were unopposed in 19 independents and 30 county districts.
An unlucky 13 districts did not attract candidates, including two that had two seats for which no one filed by the deadline. They are: Anchorage, Ashland, Caverna, Cloverport, Jackson, Jenkins (two seats) and Silver Grove independents; and Butler, Franklin, Grant (two) Hardin, Menifee and Muhlenberg county districts. In the last comparable election cycle in 2012, just seven districts failed to attract a candidate.
Among the 274 newcomers running for school board are three former superintendents, two of them in districts they once served as CEOs. Lana Fryman didn’t let much time lapse between the two positions. She was superintendent of Bourbon County Schools for more than a decade until 2015. She is seeking a seat on that board for which the incumbent did not file, but faces two challengers.
Daniel Freeman is running unopposed for a school board seat in Montgomery County, held by an incumbent who is not seeking re-election. Freeman was superintendent there for over a decade in the 2000s.
Ronald “Woody” Cheek wants back on the Spencer County school board, where he served a term before he was elected a Spencer County magistrate. This time around, he is facing incumbent Lynn Shelburne. Most recently, Cheek made an unsuccessful bid for judge-executive. Prior to holding elected office, he was superintendent for the Jenkins Independent, and the Bath and Wolfe county systems.
Here is your usual roundup of election odds and ends, some odder than others:
• Wayne County’s school board will return to a five-seat norm in January, following the district’s 2013 merger with Monticello Independent, which produced a combined board. Jerry Lair, the lone Monticello Independent holdover, and Michelle Flynn’s terms expired this year and they are not seeking election. This produces the final attrition, leaving the board at five members in 2017. All three current incumbents are running again and are unopposed.
• Carroll County will finally get a full complement of board members, having gone 18 months with a vacancy that went unfilled, despite efforts to drum up interest in an appointee. One person has finally filed to fill the unexpired term for that seat.
• The Martin County school board could have two members with journalism roots, depending on the outcome of two races there. Gary Ball, who won his first term four years ago, is editor of the Mountain Citizen in Inez. He is facing two challengers. Running for a seat against another incumbent is former newspaper reporter Lee Mueller. Mueller had headed the Lexington Herald-Leader’s old eastern Kentucky bureau for many years.
• In Bardstown Independent, one of three candidates for two seats there questions the need for the school district she seeks to represent. Donna Molyneaux cited the duplication of the costs for administration and other services, “and suggested that a merger of the Bardstown and Nelson County school districts would save money,” the Kentucky Standard newspaper reported. She also staged a protest, complete with signs, outside the district’s office as the board met inside for a public hearing on its proposed tax rate. Molyneaux faces incumbents Franklin Hibbs III and Andy Stone.
• The Burgin Independent school board is getting some new blood. Lynn Russell, who is completing two decades of service, did not file for re-election. The Burgin board was profiled in a Kentucky School Advocate article for School Board Recognition Month two years ago as one of the longest-serving intact boards in the state. Its current complement of members have served together 11 years.