Mike Rodee won a seat on the Wichita school board Tuesday night and Joy Eakins appears poised to join him.
Eakins defeated Scott Poor by only 46 votes out of more than 9,200 ballots cast in the District 2 race. More than 100 provisional ballots will be counted later and could sway the outcome, election officials said.
Eakins, a software design consultant and school volunteer, said she was “really happy with the results, but I’ll feel better when they’re final.”
She gathered with family members and supporters in her home in Wichita’s College Hill neighborhood.
“It’s interesting that this (close vote) is happening on the Board of Education race because it’s a good lesson for our kids about the importance of voting and how every vote counts,” she said. “We always said we were going to take this campaign one vote at a time, and that’s what we did.”
Late Tuesday evening, Poor and his supporters were still closely watching election results on television and online.
“I guess we’ll see what we know in the morning,” said Poor, an attorney and affordable housing developer, who gathered with friends, family and several school board members at Oeno Wine Bar in Old Town to watch the results.
“We knew it would be a tight one,” he said.
District 2 includes College Hill, Crown Heights and much of east Wichita. The winner will replace longtime board member Connie Dietz.
In District 5, which covers western parts of the city, Rodee finished with 37 percent of the vote. Rodee, who owns South Central Sealing and Paving, outpolled John Crane (33 percent) and Peter Grant (27 percent).
Rodee watched returns at his west Wichita home and was joined by current District 5 board member Lanora Nolan, who decided not to run for re-election.
“I’m feeling pretty good about the results, and I’m looking forward” to serving on the board, Rodee said.
Two incumbents up for re-election – Lynn Rogers and Betty Arnold – were unopposed in their races.
Dietz endorsed Poor for the District 2 seat and served as his campaign treasurer. Poor also secured support from several board members and United Teachers of Wichita, the local teachers union.
“I absolutely appreciate the support of labor and the teachers, and I think getting their support probably meant more to me than any other organization,” Poor said. “I absolutely support the school teachers, and I was very thankful they chose to support me.”
The Wichita district — the state’s largest, with about 50,000 students — faces several difficult issues in coming months and years. It is an urban district with a poverty level of more than 70 percent, measured by the number of children receiving free or reduced-price lunches.
“The makeup of our school district means we have a lot of students who don’t have a voice,” Eakins said. “They don’t have parents who speak up for them.
“I really want to help make sure that all of our students have an opportunity to get the education they need and that there’s a voice that speaks up for them even if they don’t have somebody to do that. That’s where my passion is. That’s probably why I joined the race.”
Ten-year-old Aaron Eakins, a fourth-grader at Hyde Elementary School, helped with his mom’s campaign, distributing yard signs and campaign literature through the neighborhood.
“I tell them, ‘Vote for Joy to help Wichita public schools,’ because they kind of need help right now,” he said Tuesday.
School leaders are debating how to proceed with a $370 million bond issue after the loss of state and federal money they had counted on to help finance construction projects and pay operating costs.
They also will oversee school security initiatives, negotiate a new teacher contract and preside over the district’s transition to Common Core Standards, an initiative designed to align states’ standards and measures of progress.
Rogers, the board president, won his fourth term Tuesday and said he thinks the next four years will bring more challenges for the district, particularly with state funding for education.
“When I first ran for school board I thought I knew it all,” he said. “Twelve years later, I realize I’m still learning things every day.”
School board members set district policy and oversee a budget of about $628 million. Members serve four-year terms and receive no pay for twice-monthly meetings and other work.
New members elected Tuesday will take office July 1.