Wichita’s first school board election under new system draws more voters

Some critics feared Wichita’s new system of electing school board members could harm voter turnout, but the numbers were up.

by Trace Salzbrenner

In the first election under USD 259’s new district-based school board election system on Tuesday in Wichita, results show voter turnout went up and moderates won over conservatives.

Last year, Wichita voters changed the way school board members are elected in the state’s largest school district. 

Previously, all school board members were elected citywide. Now, each voting district in USD 259 votes for its own board member.

Critics had worried the change would drive down turnout, but the races actually drew more voters.

Ngoc Vuong and Stan Reeser were the first two Wichita school board members to win a district-only election under the new system, according to unofficial results. Melody McCray-Miller was elected as the new at-large representative on the school board, a seat that is still elected citywide. All three are moderate candidates who beat conservative opponents. 

All three candidates were endorsed by the teachers union United Teachers of Wichita.

“These individuals have demonstrated a commitment to supporting education and an understanding of the issues at the forefront of our public schools,” union President Katie Warren said in an email.

Reeser, an incumbent, won District 4 with 54% of the vote. Vuong, a newcomer, won District 3 with 57% of the vote.

Voters cast 3,911 votes in District 4 this year. The last time that school board seat was up for election, in 2019, 2,841 voters cast ballots. In 2015, 2,546 votes were cast.

The District 3 race drew 4,809 voters. In 2019 it drew 3,251 and in 2015 it drew 2,583.

The citywide at-large election also saw higher participation this year than its previous two.

Why did school board elections change?

After the USD 259 school board adopted a new map that split historically Black neighborhoods into different school board districts, critics complained that it watered down the Black community’s influence.

That reignited calls for district-based school board elections. The old system, adopted in 1994, meant that a school board member could lose in the district they represented but still win the election if they won citywide. For instance, Ben Blankley was elected to represent District 1 but got fewer votes than his opponent in District 1 in 2017.

The next USD 259 school board election comes in 2025 when four school board seats will be up for election: Diane Albert’s seat in District 1, Julie Hedrick’s in District 2, Kathy Bond’s in District 5 and Hazel Stabler’s in District 6.

Trace Salzbrenner is a community journalist for The Wichita Beacon. Follow him on Twitter @RealTraceAlan.

This article was republished here with the permission of: The Beacon