With all the focus on statewide races for governor and U.S. Senate, as well as local special elections on millage rate increases, one likely would not be blamed for being unaware of another local race that was settled for many on Sept. 17.
School board races at the state's hundreds of school districts were held last week, but in the region's large and small districts, nearly all seats were unopposed for five year terms.
In Fort Smith, school board members Jeannie Cole and Dr. Deanie Mehl won re-election unopposed, as did Theresa Bell and Jamie Hammond across the river in Van Buren. Further east, athletic rival Alma saw a change on its board though the suffix changed after Paul Winborn Jr. ran unopposed to replace his father, Paul Winborn Sr., on the Alma School Board.
In Greenwood, Kelli Henning was appointed to the board after the filing deadline had passed to replace Mary Ann Sandifer, who resigned her position earlier this year. Henning will have to run in 2015 to keep her spot on the Greenwood School Board.
Running unopposed in Greenwood was Dr. Brad Johnson, who replaced board member Greg Hasley.
Further east in Charleston, Michelle Schmitz won a seat on the district's school board unopposed as did Rick Gage on the Ozark School Board. Ozark did have an opposed three-way race between Laura Duncan-Randolph, Todd Durning, and Mark Weseman. Weseman received 84 votes to Duncan-Randolph's 187 votes and Durning's 138, leaving the latter two in a runoff election on Oct. 7.
On the Mulberry-Pleasant View Bi-County School Board, Andrew Lewis, David Edwards and Richard Cagle all ran unopposed for their seats, while Elizabeth Jordan lost to Johnny Ray Kimes, bringing in 53 votes to his 85.
In Lavaca, School Board President Perry Newman was the only candidate up for re-election and like many of the candidates in other school districts across the region, he ran unopposed. For Newman, he said the decision to seek a seat on the board about 20 years ago was about being involved in his child's education.
"I had two young children in grade school and I kind of felt like if you're going to have your children in something, you ought to be involved in it too and the school board is a good place to be involved.”
Lavaca Superintendent Steve Rose said the primary function of Newman and his colleagues on school boards across the state was to address policy and make administrative decisions.
"The primary role of the school board is to pass policy. That's their main function and to hire and fire the superintendent," Rose said. "They're the overseers of the money and the funds. And the superintendent reports directly to the board. They're an integral part of the overall success of the school district.”
Newman agreed, but said he was unaware of the amount of politicking that comes with trying to make his children's district the best it could be. According to the now-president of the board, the state controls much of the funding for the district requiring engagement by board members with legislators and other education stakeholders.
"It's more of a political job than I thought it would be, and not necessarily locally but on a state level," he explained.
The political work in his time on the board has included working with state officials to secure funding for a new elementary and high school, as well as a performing arts center, paid for using state funding and funding from a millage increase passed during the last decade.
As for the low number of opposed seats on local school boards, when asked if having the election on dates different from the primary election in May or general election in November, he said he did not think it had any bearing.
"In our case, the community, the constituents are satisfied with the people elected to the board. They do a great job and are open to the community. So the people in the community are satisfied.”
For Newman, who has now completed four elections to the Lavaca School Board, he likes the "simpler elections.”
"It makes it a local issue. If you put it into a normal election, you're going to have someone who may vote for you because you say you're a Democrat or a Republican. When you get down into school (elections), there should be no parties. The goal is to educate in the nicest, safest, warmest place you can.”
The following links connect to the schools or school boards mentioned in this story.
Alma Public School Board