By Madelynn Coldiron
Kentucky’s school districts are losing what may be a record number of school board members who have more than two decades of experience.
Twelve longtime board members across the state, from Hickman County to Letcher County, did not file for re-election and will end their service with this calendar year. But they are not alone. In this election cycle, 78 percent of incumbent board members filed for re-election, a number that hasn’t dipped below 80 percent since 1998, when the figure also was 78 percent.
In general, during this election cycle three seats will be decided on independent school district boards, while two seats are up on county school boards. With regular terms and unexpired terms, 412 seats will be filled with the Nov. 4 election.
No incumbents filed for re-election in eight school districts – twice as many as the last comparable election cycle. For Danville and Anchorage independents, that will mean new majorities. Letcher, McCracken, Montgomery, Nelson and Shelby counties each will pick up two new members.
Among those retiring is one of the state’s longest-serving board members, Roy Gray of Fleming County, who has notched three decades of service. Gray said family and health concerns prompted his decision.
“I loved doing it; I loved the children, but as my dad said, ‘all good things finally end,’ and I guess that’s true,” he said.
Gray said he will miss the friendships he has made among board members and central office employees, but added, “I’m still going to be involved with the children, no matter what, because I’ve got grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the school.”
Jeff Eaton, chairman of the Allen County school board and a director-at-large on the KSBA Board of Directors, said he had been thinking about retiring from the school board for the past several years.
“It just seemed the right time,” he said. “But there was no specific one reason. Twenty-two years is a long time,” he said.
Eaton said he’ll miss seeing children demonstrate their programs at board meetings and also miss KSBA employees that he’s worked with.
He said in general, the lack of state funding for K-12 education “would probably discourage anybody” from school board service.
Sandra Alexander-Crouch of Bath County also is stepping down at the end of this term after a quarter-century of service.
“It was a hard decision to make,” she said.
But Alexander-Crouch said she has been frustrated with what she views as the lack of support for school board members, who, she said, have their hands tied by red tape and state dictates that lack common sense.
“I know my community, I know my county,” she said. “The people in Frankfort don’t know anything about my community and my county and my people – nothing.”
Of those incumbents who want to continue their board service, 33 percent face opposition, just a little less than four years ago. Eighty-nine districts in all will see board races. Conversely, board membership will remain the same in the 48 districts in which incumbents filed and did not draw opposition.
There were more open seats than candidates in nine school districts, where those posts will have to be filled through appointment by the state education commissioner. Those districts were Ashland, Paris, Fulton and Southgate independent districts; and Cumberland, Campbell, Carroll, Grayson and Todd county districts. Three incumbents in Paris Independent may be among those appointed, after a mix-up in determining terms resulted in none of them filing for re-election.
Among the more interesting election aspects this year:
• The Wayne County school board, which absorbed four Monticello Independent board members when the two systems consolidated last year, will be winnowed from nine members to seven following this election. Of those whose terms are up, two longtime Wayne County board members and one of two former Monticello board members decided not to run. The board redrew electoral division lines following the merger, so Linda Duncan, the incumbent Monticello board member seeking a seat, is now in the division being vacated by a Wayne County member. She faces two opponents, while two newcomers are vying for the second seat.
• One incumbent and five newcomers are vying for three seats on the Caverna Independent school board. Among those newcomers? Recently retired former superintendent Sam Dick, who told a local newspaper he filed for the seat because he has a daughter at Caverna High and also wanted to be sure there were enough candidates to fill the slate. Dick, a fixture in the school district, was superintendent for nine years.
• The race for three seats on the Fairview Independent school board will be a barn-burner. In addition to the three incumbents, five challengers have filed. The district is being investigated by the Office of Education Accountability for alleged school law violations.
• In Montgomery County, where Superintendent Josh Powell has come under public fire from some citizens, several people with ties to the district are running for school board. Neither incumbent sought re-election. Among the three people vying for one of those seats is a current employee, Cartrec Carter, who is a family resource center employee. To be eligible for the school board, a candidate in effect cannot be an employee in the district “at the time of his election,” according to state law. Another candidate for that seat is Bill Morgan, a former Bath County superintendent who recently served as interim superintendent of Fleming County Schools and who spent 25-plus years as a teacher, principal and coach in Montgomery County Schools. He also led a KDE scholastic audit team for 12 years. A former Montgomery County school employee also is one of two candidates for the other open seat in that district.
•A former Henderson County high school principal who resigned in May is one of two people seeking to oust incumbent Greg Hunsaker on that district’s school board. Sally Sugg also is a former associate commissioner with the Kentucky Department of Education.
Incumbents filing for re-election*
2014 – 78 percent
2010 – 84 percent
2006 – 81 percent
2002 – 84 percent
1998 – 78 percent
* two county seat, three independent seat cycle
School Board Veterans retiring*
Frank Hall, Nelson County, 36 years
Roy Gray, Fleming County, 32 years
David Morris, Gallatin County, 31 years
Robert Toms, Barren County, 28 years
Sandra Alexander-Crouch, Bath County, 25 years
Sherry McGivern, West Point Independent, 24 years
Rebecca Sams, Scott County, 24 years
Jeff Eaton, Allen County, 22 years
Mike Allen, Hickman County, 20 years
Terry Cornett, Letcher County, 20 years
Jim Kelley, Lincoln County, 20 years
Eddie Mathis, Shelby County, 20 years
*Length of service by the end of current term