2016 Election

2016 Election

2016 Election

Nickel taxes and newcomers
Kentucky School Advocate
December 2016
By Madelynn Coldiron
Staff writer
Shortly before the Nov. 8 election, the Marion County district became the envy of any school system that has ever tried to get voters to approve a tax.

The local newspaper, the Lebanon Enterprise, devoted almost its entire Oct. 26 edition to support of the district’s proposed nickel tax, which was on the ballot after petitioners forced a recall. There were stories detailing the inadequacies of school buildings, articles quoting local business and industry leaders about the need for the tax, and more.

Whether that or other factors tipped the scales, the nickel tax was approved by a comfortable margin – 54 percent of voters favored it.

The irony is that the three incumbent school board members who were part of the unanimous board vote to pass the tax were defeated in their bid for re-election. Among them was DeLane Pinkston, who said that, for him, the outcome was not unexpected.

“It was a little disappointing,” he said. “But you know, when you’ve been on a school board 36 years, you’re thankful, really. That doesn’t happen a lot.”

Pinkston said a “combination of things” were at work in the race, including some holdover from past issues. And, he noted, he wasn’t the only longtime school board member to lose a re-election bid in Kentucky.

“I’m very happy with the progress we’ve made in Marion County. I wish them only the best,” he said. “We needed the tax and we needed some new schools.”

Marion wasn’t the only district with a nickel tax referendum on the local ballot: Hancock. Washington and Trimble county boards also faced recall of the nickel taxes they had approved. All failed, but the Hancock County measure came closest to passing, 2,040 to 1,901 votes. Superintendent Kyle Estes told the local newspaper the high turnout generated by the presidential election probably worked against the tax, as it drew some voters who were likely not familiar with the issue.

The defeat in the other two districts was by a wider margin; the tax was rejected by 54 percent of voters in Trimble County and 77 percent in Washington County.
New crop
While a little more than 88 percent of incumbents running in 2016 will return for another term, either by holding off challengers or facing no opposition, 146 new school board members will be taking their seats come January. In all, 104 school boards will see one or more new faces. The latter two figures are pretty typical; however, the percentage of returnees is higher than the previous two comparable elections; only 37 incumbents lost their races. The number of new board members will push slightly higher later, as appointments are made to board seats for which no one filed.

In fact, the 2016 election saw few wholesale house cleanings: there were the three Marion County losses, and just two districts – Middlesboro Independent and Adair County – in which two incumbents lost. Elsewhere, losses were singular.

These districts will see three new school board members seated: Hickman and Mercer counties, where no incumbents sought re-election; the aforementioned Marion County; McCracken County, where the sole incumbent running lost; and Middlesboro and Owensboro independents, which, with three seats to be decided, were anomalies in this three-county seat, two-independent seat election.

There will be two new members on 31 boards.

There were an unusually large number of races determined by just a handful of votes this time around, none closer than in Scott County, where newcomer Diana Brooker apparently edged past incumbent Jennifer Holbert, who was seeking a second term, by just two votes – 1,290 to 1,288. Holbert told the local newspaper she planned to ask for a recanvass, which had not been conducted by the Kentucky School Advocate’s press time.

A retired teacher, Gary Norris, squeaked past incumbent Crystal Irwin by a six-vote margin in Clinton County. There were three candidates in that race. And an open race for a Fulton County school board seat had Jacob Goodman narrowly winning by five votes over James Eakes.

In the Frankfort Independent district, incumbent Paul Looney, who had served for nine years, was ousted by just nine votes, with three others, including two incumbents, topping his total in the three-seat election. Hopkins County board Chairman Shannon Embry lost his seat by 10 votes to Susanne Wolford.

Fixtures defeated and familiar faces return
Three longtime school board members did not win re-election. They include Pinkson; Jessamine County board Chairman Gene Peel, a 32-year veteran who has also served on KSBA’s board of directors; and Mike Davis, chairman and 25-year incumbent on the Trigg County school board.

Former board members were returned to their old seats in Perry, Webster and Henderson counties. Lloyd Engle will be back on the Perry County board after defeating incumbent Yvon Allen, and after four years off, Mike Waller will be back on the Henderson County board. Waller was defeated last time around, but this time won in an open race.

In Webster County, James Nance, who had 24 years of previous service on that board, made a comeback, edging out incumbent Leland Steely. It was a reversal of the 2012 race that saw then-newcomer Steely beating Nance.

Superintendents won and lost
In January, Lana Fryman will join the Bourbon County school board, serving the district she led as superintendent until 2015. Fryman, who held off two opponents for an open seat, was CEO there for more than 10 years. In Montgomery County, the district’s former superintendent in the 2000s, Daniel Freeman, was unopposed for a seat; and retired superintendent Larry Woods retained his Garrard County board spot.

Two former superintendents will not be back, however. Steve Knight, who is a former Marshall County superintendent, lost his seat on the Owensboro Independent board after serving one term. And Ronald “Woody” Cheek, who had served on the Spencer County school board in the past, did not win in his latest bid to return. Cheek served superintendencies in several districts, though not Spencer County.

Odds and ends
• Former Knox County school board Chairman Dexter Smith did not win his bid to return to the board. Dr. Thomas Ashburn, who was appointed to Smith’s seat, easily retained the position. Smith is under indictment for committing perjury in filing to run for re-election in a case involving his GED.

• A write-in candidate won a seat on the Daviess County school board. Former Apollo High School Principal Dale Stewart became a write-in candidate after another former principal had to drop out because his job by law conflicted with school board service. There were no other candidates for the seat.

• The Martin County school board went from having the prospect of two members with journalist roots to having none. Former Lexington Herald-Leader reporter Lee Mueller lost to an incumbent, while another incumbent, local newspaper editor Gary Ball, was defeated in his try for a second term.

• The candidate for Bardstown Independent school board whose platform included merger with the Nelson County system, was unsuccessful. The two incumbents garnered more votes.
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