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Most local board incumbents keep seats

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Kentucky School Advocate
December 2023

By Brenna R. Kelly
Staff writer

Three new local board members have taken their seats after the November election. Though it was an off year for school board elections, because of resignations and appointments there were at least 45 seats on the ballot to fill unexpired terms.

Most of the incumbent appointees who were running to fill unexpired terms to which they were appointed won re-election. In fact, there were only a handful of races in which incumbents faced a challenger, and in those only two incumbents lost.

There was only one contest between newcomers. In Jessamine County, two people were vying for the seat vacated by Denise Adams. In that race, Michael Foster, a maintenance supervisor at a wastewater facility in Lexington, defeated Eric Walsh, assistant director of campus safety at Asbury University.

Adams did not file for re-election in 2022, but later agreed to be appointed back to the seat until this November’s election. Foster beat Walsh by 52 votes.

Foster, who is also president of the Jessamine County Youth Football league, told the Jessamine Journal he is an advocate for school sports and wants to focus on school safety.

“I have the kids’ best interest at heart for me,” he told the paper. “I know you’ll step on people’s toes; you can never make everybody happy and in this position, but it’s for the kids. The school board members are in this for the best interest of the children, and I am 100% in this for the best interest of the kids.”

There are three years remaining on Foster’s term.

Lyon County also has a new board member. Incumbent William Simpson, who had served since being appointed to the seat in early 2023 after the seat was left vacant in the 2022 election, lost to challenger Aimee Hildalgo-Brown.

Hildalgo-Brown is a native of the Philippines who moved to the U.S. to start a family. She is now a mother of four who has served as a school-based decision making council member and a parent-teacher organization member.

Before the election, Hildalgo-Brown’s children drew campaign postcards which she then sent out to voters, she said on her Facebook page. She won by 20 votes.

Steve Becker is returning to the Danville Independent board after a one-year absence. Becker was first elected in 2000 and served until 2008. He was then elected in 2014 and served until 2022 when he did not file for re-election. He also served on the KSBA Board of Directors from 2017-2020.

Melinda Weathers was appointed to the board in January after the winner of the 2022 election resigned. Weathers did not file to keep her seat, but then ran as a write-in candidate. She garnered 34% of the vote to Becker’s 66%.

Weathers, director of Diversity and Inclusion Education at Centre College, said on Facebook that she was disappointed by the result but “hopeful that the district will continue to thrive.”

The seat will be on the ballot again in 2024 for a full four-year term.

Returning appointees
Other incumbents were able to hold off challengers in the off-year election.

In Fayette County, incumbent Marilyn Clark beat challenger Janet Greene. Clark, a supplier diversity manager at the University of Kentucky, initially had two challengers but William Swope dropped out of the race before the ballots were printed.

“I am humbled by the win tonight. It was a tough race. Best wishes to Janet Greene. She ran a good campaign,” Clark said according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Clark, the first Black female on the board since integration, won with 51% of the vote. She was first appointed to the seat in January 2023 after Christy Morris resigned. The seat will be on the ballot again in 2024 for a four-year term.

In Warren County, Bowling Green Independent incumbent Cierra Waller will keep her seat after beating Janet Burks. Waller, associate director for Student Success in Western Kentucky University’s Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, won with 59% of the vote.

“My first big move is, of course, to continue to educate myself, keeping up with my training hours that we’re required to do. I’m excited to continue to work with our community,” Waller told WBKO-TV.

She also plans to run for the seat when it is on the ballot again in November 2024.

Oldham County incumbent Allison Sheffer, who was appointed in March, kept her seat by defeating challenger Jared Barrett. Sheffer won with 66% of the vote. The seat will be on the November 2024 ballot.

Another returning board member is Hardin County’s Charlie Wise. Wise, a longtime Hardin County board member, withdrew from the 2022 election to run as a write-in candidate for Hardin County judge-executive.

Tommy Metcalf then filed as a write-in candidate for school board and won the seat before learning he could not serve on the school board due to an employment conflict.

Wise, who lost his bid for judge-executive, was appointed to the seat and faced Metcalf’s wife, Cheryl Benitez, in this fall’s election. Benitez, former chair of the Hardin County Republican party, withdrew from the race, leaving Wise to keep his seat. Wise will hold the seat until the November 2026 election.

Elected twice, can he serve?
In Montgomery County, a challenger has beat an incumbent in the last two elections, but each time he has been deemed unable to serve.

In the November 2022 election, Josh Oney defeated incumbent Bill Morgan by 21 votes. Oney then resigned in January after the attorney general ruled he could not serve because his brother had started a job in the district. The board then appointed Morgan to his old seat.

In June, Oney filed for the seat again after his brother left employment with the district.

However, just weeks before this year’s election, Oney’s brother took another job with the district. Oney said he learned of his brother’s new job only after Morgan filed suit in Montgomery Circuit Court challenging Oney’s ability to serve.

“I think the law needs to be changed,” he said. “I just don’t get it. I’m so disheartened.”

Five days before the election, the judge ruled Oney ineligible to serve, according to court records. Then on election day, Oney filed an appeal and the judge stayed the order, allowing the county clerk to count Oney’s votes.

Even though voters had previously been told that votes for Oney would not count, he beat Morgan by 67 votes.

Oney is in the process of appealing the judge’s ruling declaring him ineligible.

2023 Election

Unlike regular elections, candidates who win elections for unexpired terms begin serving immediately after the election results are certified. If no one filed for the unexpired term, a new vacancy on the board existed as of Nov. 1.

2024 Election

June 4: Candidate filing deadline for the November 2024 general election.

Aug. 12: Candidate filing deadline for seats where a vacancy occurred after the June filing deadline.

Oct. 25: Deadline to file as a write-in candidate. Reminder that if no one files for the seat, there is no election and the seat will be vacant as of Jan 1, 2025, according to KRS 160.190.

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