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Board elections net record number of newcomers, yet leave many school boards unchanged

Kentucky School Advocate
December 2018

By Brenna R. Kelly
Staff writer
Election graphic In January, 143 new board members will take their seats on school boards across the state. The number of new members is the largest in this type of election cycle since 2000 when 150 new members came aboard.  

When the new members are sworn in, 101 of Kentucky’s 173 school districts will have at least one new board member. 

Four districts, Pendleton County, Todd County, Silver Grove Independent and Murray Independent, will have three or more new members on their boards. 

The 2018 election cycle, in which three independent district seats and two county district seats are on the ballot, left the make-up of 72 boards unchanged. 

Eighty-three percent of the incumbents up for election retained their seats, down slightly from the last similar cycle in 2014 when 86 percent of incumbents won re-election. 

Longtime members departing 
Two longtime school board members lost their bids to continue to serve their districts. In Garrard County, Joe Brown who is completing his 32nd year on the board, lost to Connie Lamb, an associate professor of nursing at Berea College. Lamb won with 56 percent of the vote. 

Brown is also a member of the KSBA Board of Directors.

In Hart County, Bill Belt who is completing his 20th year of service, lost to Tina Rutledge by just eight votes. Rutledge has three children in the district and has served on a school-based decision making council and a parent/teacher organization.

Across the state 
Jefferson County: In the state’s largest district and the only board with seven seats, the two incumbents who filed for re-election – Linda Duncan and Diane Porter – were unopposed. The two new candidates backed by the Jefferson County teacher’s union easily won the two open seats, which each had four candidates. The newly elected members are Corrie Shull, a pastor, and James Craig, an attorney. 

Danville Independent: A board member is keeping his seat and a former board member is returning in Danville. With three seats up, two board members who had pushed for former Superintendent Keith Look’s departure did not seek re-election. Steve Becker, who favored retaining Look, won re-election with nearly 24 percent of the vote in a field of five. Former board member Paul Smiley received the most votes. The third winner, Glenn Ball, beat Jessamine County principal Aaron Etherington by just one vote. 

Family ties 
Gallatin County: Melinda Murray, wife of former board member Chad Murray, who was removed by a judge for failing to earn a high school diploma, was unsuccessful in her bid for the seat he once held. Becky Burgett, who had been appointed to the seat, retained her position by a 90-vote margin. Incumbent Joanie Rogers will be replaced by Amana Dunavent, who garnered 77.2 percent of the vote.

Glasgow Independent: Barret Lessenberry retained his seat on the board where he served with his brother Leigh Lessenberry for eight years. Leigh decided not to file for re-election. There will be two new members – William Thornbury and Reggie Hayden – joining Barret on the board. Incumbent Alison Campbell also did not run.  

Harlan County: Incumbent Pam Sheffield did not seek re-election after nearly 16 years on the board, and will be replaced by husband, Wes, who ran for her seat unopposed. 

Madison County: In Madison County, Wayne Renfro was unsuccessful in his bid to replace his wife, Mary Renfro, who did not file for re-election in order to run for a seat in the state house. She was also unsuccessful in her bid to represent the 71st House District. Wayne Renfro came in third of the three candidates for the seat, netting 340 votes. Lori Cobb won the seat by beating Brandy Winkler by 18 votes. In addition to Cobb, Brandon Rutherford will also be joining the board, wining the seat vacated by Sue McAfee, who did not seek re-election.

Change coming in Silver Grove?
There could be changes coming to Silver Grove Independent. Four of the five seats on the board were on the ballot this year and while all four incumbents sought to keep their seats, all four were defeated. The four new board members ran as group, saying in a joint letter to the NKY Tribune that “it is time for change.” 

“We as a group agree that one of the first steps is to discuss merger possibilities with Campbell County schools,” the letter stated. 

The new board members include Maurice Hehman, Kathryn Dee, Tonya McCarter and Jennifer Wade. Wade ran as a write-in candidate, receiving 141 votes, 13 more than the closest incumbent Jennifer Steidel Jones. 

The only returning board member will be current chairwoman Melanie Pelle whose term in up in 2020. 

Everybody up
Todd County: All five seats on the Todd County school board were up this year through a confluence of vacancies and unexpired terms. Three incumbents – Eric Harris, Johnny Knuckles and Todd Thomas – will remain on the board. Harris and Thomas were unopposed for their seats, while Knuckles beat one challenger. Incumbent Shannon Martin did not run. She will be replaced by Andrea Jones, who ran unopposed. Joshua Mosby will join the board after winning an unexpired term seat. 

Jenkins Independent: Like Todd County, all seats on the Jenkins Independent board were on the ballot. The election, however, resulted in no changes to the board. Three regular seats were up for election with all three incumbents retaining their seats against two challengers. Two unexpired seats were also on the ballot with two incumbents running unopposed for the two seats.

Taxation and representation 
Lawrence County: A proposed facility tax in Lawrence County was overwhelmingly defeated with 64 percent of voters rejecting the tax. Lawrence County Schools had hoped to use the revenue generated from the nickel tax to rebuild Louisa West Elementary and for upgrades to the district’s other schools. The tax was the second nickel tax to be defeated this year; the other was in Woodford County where voters rejected the tax in a special election in June.

Woodford County: The leaders of two groups on opposite sides of Woodford County’s failed facilities tax vote won seats on the school board. Allison Richardson, a leader of the group that actively – and successfully – fought the proposed tax, defeated incumbent board member Karen Brock by 49 votes. Dani Bradley, a leader of “I Support our Schools,” a community group a which lobbied for the tax to pay for a new high school, won the seat vacated by longtime board member Margie Cleveland, who did not seek re-election. Bradley beat two opponents to gain a seat on the board.

Crowded field 
Eminence Independent: With eight candidates for three seats on the board, Eminence’s race showed a lot of interest in the district. All three incumbents tried to hold on to their seats, but only two were successful. Brenda Chism and Pamela Morehead-Johnson retained their seats while Tony Adams did not. New member Donna McClamroch, the education director at the Kentucky State Reformatory and Roederer Correctional Complex, will join the board in January.  

Walton-Verona: Seven candidates, including two incumbents, ran for three seats in Walton-Verona. Incumbent Heather Stewart retained her seat while incumbent Susan Smith did not. Joining the Walton-Verona board will be Kyle Art and Stacey Thornberry, who received the highest and second highest number of votes respectively in the seven-way race. Thornberry is a current school-based decision making council representative and former PTA president in the district.
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