Last week’s election was a test of the new voting schedule in Kansas. The new plan moved local elections to the fall instead of the spring during odd-numbered years.
State lawmakers changed the election schedule in 2015 as a way to increase voter turnout. In Sedgwick County, only eight percent of registered voters cast ballots last week.
When local elections were held in the spring of 2013, voter turnout was six percent.
Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman says it’s too early to tell if the schedule switch will impact voter turnout.
“This was one election and the first year. I know we did not have any budget to do any kind of voter information campaign. I know the Secretary of State’s Office did some but we had no budget for that,” she says. “We had five unscheduled elections [in Sedgwick County] this year that were not budgeted for and so we weren’t able to send anything out to voters to alert them of the change.”
The change means a transition for school boards mid-year.
Wichita Public Schools Board of Education President Mike Rodee says the fall election means incoming board members have to catch up quickly because the school year is half over when they take office.
“Now we are teaching a majority of the board how to work together as a board and how the board actually works...in the middle of the year,” Rodee says.
He was re-elected to a second term for District 5.
Official results from the Sedgwick County Election Office show Rodee won with 9167 votes, or 63 percent, over Peter Grant, who had 5210 votes, 35 percent.
Come January, newly appointed or elected members will fill five out of the seven seats on the Board of Education.
In a close District 1 race, Ben Blankley edged out incumbent Betty Arnold by 84 votes. Blankley, an engineer with Spirit AeroSystems, had 7766 votes to Arnold’s 7682 votes.
For District 2, Julie Hedrick, a retired USD 259 administrator, won a three-way race with 43 percent of votes. Trish Hileman received 34 percent of votes, and Debra Washington had 21 percent.
Hedrick replaces Joy Eakins, who served one term and did not seek re-election.
The three-way race for District 6 went to Haysville High School Teacher Ron Rosales. He had 48 percent of votes over opponent Walt Chappell, who received 28 percent, and Shirley Jefferson, who received 23 percent.
Rosales replaces Lynn Rogers, state senator for District 25, who served 16 years on the BOE.
Rodee says he thinks voters picked the right people to fill the positions.
“Listening to them at the candidate forums, [I know] they’re all about the kids which is important to the board. It should be an easy transition. There’s a large learning curve no matter what. It’ll take about six to eight months just for them to feel comfortable sitting up there, knowing what we are talking about and understanding all the acronyms,” Rodee says.
The board appointed Stan Reeser to District 4 in October after former members Jeff Davis moved out of his district. A replacement for Barbara Fuller’s District 3 seat is expected to be appointed in December. She also moved out of her district.
The Board of Ed oversees policies and budgets for a district with more than 50,000 students—the largest district in Kansas.
“The superintendent does a lot of it, and that’s their job," Rodee says. "Our job [for the Board of Education] is oversight and those types of things."
Superintendent Alicia Thompson began her job in July.
Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar.
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