A teacher and a former administrator were elected to the Wichita school board Monday, and Ben Blankley appeared poised to unseat longtime board member Betty Arnold in a tight race.
Blankley led Arnold by 123 votes out of more than 15,000 ballots cast in the District 1 race. Provisional ballots will be counted later and could sway the outcome.
Board president Mike Rodee was re-elected to a second term, finishing with 63 percent of the vote over Peter Grant in District 5.
New members elected Tuesday will take office Jan. 8.
In District 6, Ron Rosales led his challengers, Walt Chappell and Shirley Jefferson, with 48 percent of the vote. Rosales, 52, who teaches high school in Haysville, will become the school board’s first Hispanic member.
“Initially, my biggest motivation was to really just help represent this community. A lot of the Hispanics … are not represented” on local boards, said Rosales, who watched election results from home with his wife and family.
Hispanic children make up the largest segment of students by race in the Wichita district.
“As time went on, I really felt the burden to … restore some credibility back to the school board,” Rosales said.
Julie Hedrick, who was director of facilities for the Wichita school district when she retired two years ago, bested opponents Trish Hileman and Debra Washington for the District 2 seat, with 43 percent of the vote.
District 2 includes College Hill, Crown Heights and much of east Wichita. The winner will replace board member Joy Eakins.
“I appreciate that the people of Wichita trust me to join the other Board of Education members to oversee the education of their children and grandchildren,” Hedrick said. “I will be glad to join the team, whoever that might be.”
Blankley, who attended a watch party at the Ambassador Hotel, said he felt positive and hoped his grassroots campaign would prove successful in the end. But he marveled at the closeness of his race against Arnold, the incumbent.
“I’ve been telling everyone who would listen that every vote counts, and I guess maybe they might believe me when they wake up in the morning and see how close this really is,” Blankley said.
“It’s beyond anything I ever really expected,” he said. “I’m pretty confident, but it’s going to come down to the wire.”
Arnold, who sought her third full term, said she would be disappointed if a final tally shows that she lost her seat on the board. But she planned to continue advocating for students, she said.
“Nothing really changes other than I’m not officially the District 1 representative,” Arnold said. “There are still some things I want to see done, and … I can probably be more effective, having been on the board and understanding the process.”
Tuesday’s election will mean more change for a school board that already has experienced some turnover recently.
On Monday night, just hours before the election, board member Barbara Fuller announced her resignation. The board plans to appoint her replacement in coming weeks. And Stan Reeser joined the board last month, replacing Jeff Davis, who resigned in September.
When newly elected board members take their seats in January, only two will have served more than a few months.
All this is happening after the board hired a new superintendent, Alicia Thompson, who took over her new job in June.
Several challengers, including Blankley, said change is needed on the board, pointing to what they say is a lack of transparency and public engagement at the board table. Others, including Hedrick, said the district is on the right path and making headway on several fronts.
Board members set policy and oversee a budget of $682 million for a district with about 50,000 students – the state’s largest. Members serve four-year terms and earn no pay for twice-monthly meetings and other work.