For the first time anyone in Nebraska can remember, elections for the state school board likely will come down to a recount to decide one winner’s seat.
The tightly contested seat involves one of two incumbent members who last summer led a failed effort to include challenges to the theory of evolution in teaching about human origins. Two other incumbents held on to their seats.
When the ballots were counted for a seat representing the western part of the state, Kandy Imes, a 10-year local school board veteran, had 124 votes more than Kathy Wilmot, an eight-year member of the Nebraska state board of education.
Meanwhile, Kathryn C. Piller, Ms. Wilmot’s fellow incumbent and supporter of the controversial curriculum changes, lost her re-election bid by 515 votes.
Because of the narrow margin of Ms. Imes’ victory, election officials say a recount is probable and a winner will be declared by early December, after the state’s canvassing board has a chance to review results of the roughly 56,000 votes cast.
We were all a little surprised,” said John Bonaiuto, the executive director of the Nebraska Association of School Boards. “We have not dealt with this in recent history.”
The eight, nonpartisan seats on the state board are critical because the panel sets a broad range of education policy, and its members often become legislators.
“It’s a very important race,” Mr. Bonaiuto said of the undecided seat.
Nebraska, like 13 other states, elects state school board members. Nationally, elections for state school boards were held Nov. 5 in 12 states, according to the National Association of State Boards of Education, in Alexandria, Va.
Nebraska is the only state in which a state school board race faces a recount, said David Griffith, a spokesman for NASBE. He said that while Colorado had a recount for an at-large seat two years ago, recounts are rare in state board races.
Many state school board campaigns around the country, Mr. Griffith added, focused on the future of state testing and accountability systems now that the federal “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001 imposes more demands for student testing. “A lot of the races were run on assessment issues. No Child Left Behind was looming,” said Mr. Griffith.
Push by Union
Ms. Wilmot, who lagged behind her opponent when votes were tallied, believes the election was so close because of a sustained effort to defeat her by the 25,000-member Nebraska State Education Association.
She supports teaching abstinence in health education classes. And last summer, the 52-year-old former elementary school teacher from Beaver City pushed unsuccessfully for changes to the state science standards that would have allowed instructors to teach concepts such as “intelligent design” in addition to the Darwinian theory of evolution.
Ms. Wilmot, however, believes that those opinions played a minor role in the election.
“I don’t think issues had anything to do with it,” she said about the close race. “There was a lot of union money that flowed and a lot of phone-banking. That is really sad.
“Running for office should be about people and constituents rather than who speaks for the union,” she continued. “I’m not a rubber-stamp vote.”
The union, she said, included as part of its phone-bank calls the voice of an elementary school student asking voters to support Ms. Wilmot’s opponent if they wanted higher teacher salaries.
Karen Kilgarin, a spokeswoman for the union, said the National Education Association affiliate strongly supported Ms. Imes after interviewing the candidates. “It’s an issue-based decision,” she said.
Ms. Imes, a member of the Gering school board, located in the Nebraska panhandle 20 miles from Wyoming, touts her relationship with the union. “I emphasize the importance of communication,” she said.
A version of this article appeared in the November 20, 2002 edition of Education Week as Recount Likely to Determine Nebraska Board Seat