The Wichita Board of Education is poised to maintain its moderate majority after Democrats — including two newcomers and an incumbent — came out on top in the initial election results for three seats in Kansas’ largest school district.
Although school board elections are technically non-partisan, the board’s ideological majority hung in the balance heading into Tuesday’s general election after three of four conservatives running as a slate of candidates in 2021 toppled moderate incumbents.
Conservatives needed one more seat to gain control of the seven-member board.
But they fell shy of the needed votes in the at-large and south Wichita’s District 3 and District 4 races Tuesday, according to final unofficial results from the Sedgwick County Election Office. Results will not be official until Nov. 16.
The winners say they plan to focus on teacher recruitment and retention and student behavior, among other issues, over the next four years.
Melody McCray-Miller, a former Democratic state representative and Sedgwick County Commissioner who has taught in the district, beat Brent Davis, who runs a tutoring and test preparation business, for the at-large seat, earning 53% of the vote. Of 19,115 votes cast, McCray-Miller received 11,802 and Davis got 7,259, according to final unofficial election results.
McCray-Miller said teacher recruitment and retention, student behavior and looking at how programs funded with COVID dollars performed will be top of mind for her. She will replace retiring member Sheril Logan.
“I’ve very excited, very humbled at the same time for the district being able to put their faith and their trust in me as a steward of their children,” McCray-Miller said.
The Wichita School District serves about 47,000 students and has nearly 10,000 employees.
“I am ready to . . . start working on continuing to make our district the best district in the state of Kansas.”
Stan Reeser hung onto his seat in District 4, topping challenger Jason Carmichael with 54% of the vote. He also plans to continue working on student behavior and teacher retention issues, as well as “some budget issues that we’re going to have to deal with in the next couple of years.”
“The fight for effective public education continues. I think we’ve got some challenges ahead of us in the district, but I think we got a fighting chance to have good progress here in the next couple of years,” Reeser said, adding that he feels “very good about the election results.”
Of 1,740 votes cast, Reeser received 1,024 to Carmichael’s 708.
Ngoc Vuong, who prevailed over Ken Carpenter, 57% to 43%, for the open seat in District 3, said his enthusiasm about winning was somewhat tempered by the Wichita mayoral and City Council results. Both Vuong and Carpenter were first-time candidates.
Vuong got 1,319 votes and Carpenter got 912, out of 2,235 ballots cast.
“District 3 is looking for a candidate that has an actual connection with Wichita Public Schools — that has been through the system, that has volunteered actively in the system, that has mentored dozens of students, and that is going to put students over these culture war issues,” said Vuong, who will replace retiring member Ernestine Krehbiel.
As a 23-year-old pursuing his doctoral degree in community psychology at Wichita State, Vuong said he will bring a fresh perspective to the board.
“When you’re talking about the challenges of homework and essays and taking tests and even procrastination . . . I can literally relate to that,” he said.
“For students, it’s important that they see someone like me.”
The match-up between McCray-Miller and Davis was the only school board contest all voters who live in Wichita Public Schools boundaries had a chance to weigh in on this time around, after voters last year decided to switch to a district-specific model of representation rather than continuing to select all members at large.
Patricia Caron, a 63-year-old data analyst, and her husband, Douglas Caron, a 60-year-old accountant, both cast their ballots for McCray-Miller, saying they had concerns with her opponent.
“I like what Melody (has done),” Douglas Caron said. “Some of the positions of Brent Davis scared me. He was the anti-vax, banning books kind of stuff.”
Loren Pack, a 63-year-old social work professor at Wichita State University who was most interested in the school board election, also voted for McCray-Miller.
“I think she has proven herself that she is a public servant and we need people interested in serving the public in office,” he said.
Outside spending in the school board races saw a late influx when the Kansas Values Institute, a liberal advocacy group, began running online advertisements warning that “extremists” are trying to “take over” the school board. The ad stated that McCray-Miller, Reeser and Vuong will stand up against book bans and micromanaging teachers in classrooms.
Because the ad did not explicitly say to vote for or against any candidate, the Kansas Values Institute is not required by state law to disclose how much money it spent on the campaign.
Wichita board of education positions are unpaid. Members serve four-year terms. School board responsibilities include hiring and evaluating the superintendent, adopting policies for the district and overseeing USD 259’s roughly $1 billion budget.
Contributing: Michael Stavola of The Eagle