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2022 election recap

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Most incumbents keep their seats, more than half of boards unchanged

Kentucky School Advocate
December 2022

By Brenna R. Kelly
Staff writer

The 101 newly elected board members who will take their seats in January, are the smallest number of newly elected board members in at least 24 years.

Of course, over that time, the number of Kentucky school boards has shrunk by five as districts have consolidated.

But the number of newly elected members in this year’s election is even less than the number of newly elected members in 2020 – the year when COVID-19, a change in filing deadline and the new requirement for high school transcripts converged to see just 104 new school board members take office.

In this year’s election, 88 percent of incumbents kept their seats – the second highest percentage of incumbents reelected the last four similar cycles, in which two county seats and three independent seats were on the ballot.

With a high percentage of incumbents winning, more than half of school boards in the state will stay the same. Before the election, 54 school boards were slated to remain the same with incumbent members running unopposed. After the election, 89 districts will not change, just five fewer than in 2020 and the highest number of boards unchanged in last four similar election cycles.

Miss Kentucky joins the board            
Miss Kentucky is now a school board member. Hannah Edelen, a former teacher in Covington Independent and reigning Miss Kentucky, won a seat on the Covington Independent board.

Edelen, 24, is also the author of the 2022 children’s book “Hank the Horse and the Case of the Missing Eggs!”

She has spent this fall speaking at schools across the Commonwealth to promote the Read Ready Kentucky program, a science-based literacy initiative.

“The great thing about Miss Kentucky is I feel like it’s really an extension of my job as a teacher,” Edelen told The Courier Journal after she was crowned in June.

Edelen will compete in the Miss America pageant on Dec. 15. She is one of two newcomers to the board. Kareem Simpson also won a seat. Simpson is a Covington Independent graduate and a U.S. Army veteran who works for the Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission.

Incumbent Jerry Avery lost his seat after three terms on the Covington board and incumbent Sarah Flerage did not run for reelection.  

Breaking barriers            
Kentucky now has its first transgender elected official. Rebecca Blankenship, who won election to the Berea Independent school board with 55 votes, is the first openly transgender person elected in the state, according to an LGBTQ advocacy group.

Blankenship filed as a write-in candidate after only two people filed for three open seats on the board. She has four stepchildren in Berea schools and three more who have attended.

“When I got into this, I really didn’t know whether there would be a barrier broken,” Blankenship said in a Facebook post. “What I cared most about, and what I still care most about, is making sure my kids – all our kids – have great opportunities.”

Blankenship, a Marshall County native, is the executive director of Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky. Blankenship, who began campaigning in mid-September, said she wants to work to reduce class size, increase teacher pay, post board meeting minutes online, increase district communication and promote career and technical education.

Residency court challenge            
In Campbell County, longtime board chair Janis Winbigler lost her seat to a challenger who does not live in the division she was elected to represent.

Kailyn Campbell lives in Division 3, however she filed to represent Division 1 on the board. After the filing deadline, Winbigler sued in Campbell Circuit Court to have Campbell removed from the ballot. However, a judge ruled just 11 days before the election that Campbell’s name could remain.The judge ruled that because a federal judge declared after the filing deadline that the district’s school board divisions are unconstitutional, the restrictions that a candidate must live in the division were “effectively removed.”

“Therefore a candidate for the Campbell County Board of Education did not have to run within the district where he/she is a voter,” Campbell Circuit Judge Daniel Zalla wrote.

Campbell, who runs a community magazine, won the election with 56 percent of the vote. Winbigler, who retired as a Bellevue Independent district administrator, has served on the board for 15 years. Incumbent Peggy Schultz kept her seat on the Campbell County board defeating two challengers.

Former board members returning              
At least four former board members will be returning to board service in January.

Brad Hood, who served for 12 years on the Beechwood Independent board before losing his seat by just 49 votes in 2018, will return to the board. Hood will join incumbents Jeanne Berger and Amy Sleet who both won reelection. Board chairwoman Norine Sullivan did not seek another term.

In Fayette County, former board member Amanda Ferguson will be returning the board of the second-largest district in the state. Ferguson defeated incumbent Stephanie Spires and challenger Matthew Vied by garnering 42 percent of the vote. Ferguson was first elected to the Fayette board in 2006 and served until 2016 when she resigned. After leaving the board she served on Henry Clay High School’s school-based decision making council.

“I’m grateful that people have faith in me to do a good job,” Ferguson told the Lexington Herald-Leader on election night.

Incumbent Tyler Murphy was unopposed in the election.

In Bath County, former board member Eric Conkright will return to the board after he ran unopposed to replace Burnsy Stewart who did not run. Conkright previously served from 2015 to 2018 when he was defeated by Stewart.

In Hardin County, Mark Casey will return to the seat from which he resigned in 2021 when his daughter took a job with the district. With his daughter no longer employed there, Casey will fill the seat now held by Sherry Barnes who did not seek reelection.

Everybody up, switching seats              
All five Danville board seats were on the ballot thanks to a confluence of regular terms and unexpired terms. Two incumbents, Jennifer Pustaeri and Ester Rugerio, who had been appointed to terms set to expire in 2024, instead decided to seek a four-year term on the board. Both were elected, along with incumbent Glenn Ball. Joining them will be new board members Kent Mann, former Danville assistant superintendent, and Patrick McClure, an attorney, who will serve out the unexpired terms.

In Franklin County, incumbent Natalie Lile was not set to be up for election for two more years, but she chose to run for an open seat representing another district because she had moved. Lile will replace Belinda Henson who did not run, and the board will now appoint someone to fill Lile’s former seat.

Crowded county races            
The school board race with the most contenders in the state resulted in a former district employee winning the seat. Of the five candidates seeking the Scott County seat, Eleanor Ratliff, a former RTI interventionist and the mother of Carol Barr, Congressman Andy Barr’s wife who died in 2020, won with 34 percent of the vote. Ratliff defeated incumbent Stephanie Powers who had served on the board for seven years.

In Oldham County, incumbent Suzanne Hundley held on to her seat against three challengers. The two other incumbents on the ballot in Oldham County, Andrea Neikirk and Patrick Kehoe, both lost their seats.

Henderson County incumbent Kirk Haynes faced three challengers and was upset by challenger Joe McGarrh. McGarrh campaigned to bring a “conservative voice” to the school board and was endorsed by the Commonwealth Education PAC, which supports school choice and education savings accounts for non-public K-12 schooling.

In Anderson County, incumbent Rose Morgan lost her seat in a four-candidate race to Steve Carmichael, a former principal of Anderson County Middle School, former private school administrator and former director of the county’s senior citizens center.

Clay County incumbent Anthony Lovett was able to hold on to his seat against three challengers as was Jefferson County’s Diane Porter and James Craig.

Porter won with 66 percent of the vote and Craig beat his three challengers with Steve Ullum coming closest – losing to Craig by just two percentage points.

Porter and Craig will rejoin the board along with Corry Shull and Linda Duncan who also won their races.

Many candidates, few seats              
In Fort Thomas, eight candidates including two incumbents, were vying for three seats on the board. When the ballots were counted, Ann Meyer kept her seat while Lisa Duckworth lost her seat. Joining the Fort Thomas board are Sarah Foster, an attorney, and Clem Fennell, a business owner. Fennell was endorsed by The Fort PAC, which lists preventing Critical Race Theory concepts and opposing indoctrination as two of its goals.

Walton-Verona also had eight candidates on the ballot, including incumbents Heather Stewart and Aubrey Ryan. Both retained their seats and will be joined by James Dixon, who has five children in the district.

Tight race              
In Harrison County, incumbent Mary June Brunker kept her seat – winning by just seven votes. Brunker, who has been on the board for 12 years, faced first time candidate Derrick Dye.

Open seats              
After the filing deadline and before the election, nine boards were facing vacancies after no one filed for the seats. However, those interested had until Oct. 28 to file as a write-in candidate and, in all but two cases, the empty seats were filled by write-ins.

Metcalfe County was slated to have two open seats after incumbents Joey Shive and Donnie Perry did not file. Both later filed as write-ins and won reelection – Shive with 23 votes and Perry with 18 votes.

In Livingston County, incumbent Terry Watson also did not file for election, then ran as a write-in and kept her seat with just 15 votes.

Southgate Independent will have to appoint a new board member to its open seat as no one filed as a write-in.

Jessamine County will also have a vacancy in January. After Denise Adams did not file for reelection and no one else filed for the seat, the board attorney worked with the county attorney to determine whether a write-in candidate could file for the seat.

The county asked Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office for an opinion and the office said that according to previous attorney general opinions, when no one files for a school board seat there is no election and therefore write-in candidates are not allowed. The attorney general’s office explained that the board should fill the seat through the appointment process once there is a vacancy in January.

“Since this was an election issue and not a school issue, the board considered the matter out of our hands and no further discussion occurred,” Jessamine board chairman Steven Scrivner wrote in an October Facebook post explaining the situation. “The school board did not create this situation, nor did we do anything to influence how it was dealt with, and anyone saying otherwise is either misguided, flat out lying or both.”

Other notable races in Kentucky
One school board member will be joining the General Assembly. Warren County board member Kevin Jackson, a Republican, defeated incumbent Democrat Patti Minter for the District 12 seat. Jackson, a financial consultant who has served on the Warren board for four years, received 55 percent of the vote.  

Owensboro Independent board member Michael Johnson was unsuccessful in his race for the statehouse. Johnson, a Democrat, was running for District 13 representative but lost to Republican DJ Johnson.

Other educators running for state representative as Democrats were also unsuccessful, including teacher Susan Cintra in District 34, teacher Pam Dossett in District 8, retired Webster County assistant superintendent Alan Lossner in District 12 and retired Christian County teacher Bianca Crockram in District 9.

Jefferson County teacher Beverly Chester-Burton, a Democrat, won the District 44 seat to become state representative running unopposed.

In Pendleton County, former superintendent Anthony Strong lost his bid to become a county magistrate. Strong, a Democrat, lost to Republican Alan Whaley. Former Metcalfe County superintendent Benny Lile was also unsuccessful in his race to become county judge-executive. Lile, a Republican, lost to Democrat Larry Wilson.

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