Local school board races take shape

·5 min read

Sep. 9—More school board elections than not are contested this fall.

Nowhere is this more true than in Kokomo, where 12 candidates are vying for three at-large seats.

Incumbents Lisa Hemmeger, the current Kokomo school board president, and Lisa Ellison are running for reelection.

Challengers include Nicole Mundy, former Kokomo Teachers Association president; Terri Sitzes, a director at Heartland Christian Academy; and Matthew Hartke, pastor at Kokomo First Baptist Church.

School boards serve as a watchdog over a school district on the public's behalf. Board members vote on policies, approve a district's budget and hire the superintendent. They are not involved in day-to-day operations of a school.

School board races are nonpartisan. Board members do not represent a political party. However, there was a push by some Indiana legislators to require school board candidates to declare an affiliation. The legislative bill never received a vote after widespread opposition from board members and education folk.

What follows is a summary of school board races at each district in the Kokomo Tribune's coverage area. The Tribune will have more coverage in the lead up to the Nov. 8 election.

Eastern

There are just two candidates running for the Eastern Howard Board of Education, and both are unopposed.

Longtime member and current board president Brian Day is running for another term.

Abbee Summers is unopposed for the at-large seat. The seat once was held by her sister, Aimee Romero.

Matt Adams was appointed to fill the remainder of Romero's term, following her death. He is not running for election.

Northwestern

Two at-large seats on the Northwestern school board are on the ballot this fall.

Those seats are occupied by Ted Merrell and Jenny Kelly, both of whom are running for reelection. Merrell is board president.

They are challenged by Elke Fahrmann and Kenneth Ortman.

Taylor

There are three races for Taylor school board, but only one is contested.

Cathy Matthews, who represents District 1, is challenged by Anna Owens and Shawn Haus.

Dennis Marler, board president, and Bill Brubaker are unopposed in their reelection bids.

Western

There are two contested races for Western school board. Two members, Scott Gaskins and Harry Kenworthy, are running unopposed.

The contested races are for an at-large seat and Honey Creek Township representative.

There are three candidates running for each spot. The at-large spot is between Cindy Hurst, Joey Dyer and Greg Stephens.

Hurst currently holds the seat and was appointed in July.

Dyer and Stephens both interviewed for the open seat Hurst was appointed to.

Dyer is the public address announcer for Western basketball games. He's also involved with Russiaville Twisters and Russiaville Youth Baseball League.

Stephens is the founder of Stephens Machine, a machine fabrication shop.

Jill Newby, the Honey Creek rep, is challenged by Dean Leicht and Rhiannon Thompson.

Leicht also ran for the open seat this summer. He is a fixture at Western board meetings and usually offers public comment. Leicht speaks frequently about board transparency. He's also voiced concerns about gay and transgender students.

Maconaquah

All three Maconaquah school board races pit an incumbent versus at least one challenger.

Board president Robert Daine goes against Jill Sharp for the District 1 seat.

In District 3, incumbent Allen Willson runs against Keith Kile.

Board member Greg Bevington has two challengers in District 4: Rex Betzner and Tonya Philpot.

Peru

Three spots are up for grabs on the Peru school board.

They're currently held by Jarrod Ellis, Brittany Justice and Charles Wagner. All three are running for reelection.

Two others are also running: Tommie Beattie and David Hoover.

Tipton

There is guaranteed to be some shake up on the Tipton school board come 2023 as two board members aren't running for reelection.

President Gary Plumer and Vice President April Overdorf are not running for another term.

With Plumer not running again, it leaves two Tipton city seats up for grabs. Chris McNew, the other city representative up for reelection, is running again.

Other candidates for the Tipton city seats are Eric Underwood, Jason Springer and Gary Johnson.

Robert Cochrane is unopposed for the Cicero Township seat, which was held by Overdorf. Cochrane works for Centric Consulting and helped Tipton and Tri-Central schools draft COVID policies last year.

Tri-Central

Tri-Central's school board will have one new face and see the departure of one incumbent.

Vice President Dan DeLong and newcomer Kreg Salsbery, running as a Liberty Township representative, are unopposed.

An at-large seat is contested by Jerry Fernung and Kolby Dickover. The latter is the current board president and used to represent Liberty Township. However, Dickover moved out of the township, according to Tri-Central Superintendent Dave Driggs.

State law allows a board member to continue representing their township, in the event they move, until the end of their term.

Because Dickover's term is ending and he's no longer in Liberty Township, he must run for the at-large seat, currently held by Fernung. This means one of the two incumbents will not be back on the board in 2023.

Tri-Central's board consists of two representatives each from Liberty, Prairie and Wildcat townships, and one at-large seat.

Spencer Durham can be reached at 765-454-8598, by email at spencer.durham@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at @Durham_KT.