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Southern Indiana officials highlight importance of upcoming school board election

Buses line up to pick up students outside of New Albany High School.
Buses line up to pick up students outside of New Albany High School.

Four seats on the New Albany Floyd County Schools board are up for grabs in next month’s general election. Leading up to Election Day, local educators and advocates are seeking to emphasize how the board’s decisions affect the entire community, not just the classroom.

Districts 1 and 2, along with two at-large positions, will be on the ballot. There are a total of 15 candidates, including parents, educators and two incumbents.

State Rep. Ed Clere, who serves the area in the legislature, said school board elections often get overshadowed by other local government offices.

“School board members are making critical decisions for the community that have implications far beyond the four walls of the school building,” Clere said. “The decisions they make impact everything else in the community, now and in the future, including quality of life, economic development, workforce, just every aspect of our community.”

That significance is amplified in large districts like NAFCS: More than 11,500 students attend its 16 schools, and the district’s annual expenditures exceed $100 million.

“The New Albany Floyd County School Corporation is one of the largest employers in Floyd County,” Clere said. “In terms of budget, real estate, employees, vehicles and lots of other measures, the school corporation dwarfs every other unit of local government, including the city of New Albany.”

Some residents said the level of public interest in the school board doesn’t match the massive operation board members oversee.

The New Albany Floyd County Education Association, which represents full-time teachers and employees, is trying to change that. Last week, the group hosted a public forum to learn more about the candidates running in this year’s election.

“Our goal is to really get all of the information out about the school board so that people can make their own informed decisions,” said Mary Arnold, an association member who organized the forum. “Not just rely on what [other people say], but really look in depth at the questions people are answering, the places that candidates are going, the people candidates are meeting, and really kind of dig their nails into this topic of school board.”

Arnold said 10 candidates attended the forum. They answered questions about the role of board members, school staffing and how they’d work with the education association.

The timing of this election is especially important for NAFCS. The district’s former superintendent, Brad Snyder, unexpectedly retired earlier this year, citing a poor relationship with the school board. The board recently paused its search for a full-time replacement but is expected to resume next year.

Lisa McIntyre, the education association’s president, said next fall is also a bargaining year for teachers.

“We also need help when it comes time for the legislature and any laws that they want to try and enact,” she said. “Sometimes they're doing it because they're hearing from their constituents, but they're only hearing from a small amount of constituents. So, school board members [and] teachers, we have to get out and play the political game.”

The education association has shared written answers from school board candidates on its Facebook page. The group plans to continue sharing that information, along with a recording of the forum, through Election Day.

“It's really important for us to know who's going to be on our school board, and who's going to be supporting our students and our families and our teachers and our staff, so it's really just important to get information out at this point,” Arnold said.

At Large (two seats)

  • Connie Baugh
  • Brian (BJ) Foster
  • Elaine Gunterman Murphy (incumbent)
  • Tim Harbison
  • Thad Neafus
  • Misty Ronau
  • Kevin S. Skinner
  • Randall T. (Randy) Stumler

District 1

  • J.R. Drummond
  • Stephen Wayne Keenan
  • Melanie Stumler Northup
  • Trent Rufing

District 2

  • Jason Fulton
  • Ryan Topping
  • Lee Ann Wiseheart (incumbent)

John Boyle is a corps member with  Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. John’s coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by the Caesars Foundation of Floyd County, Community Foundation of Southern Indiana and Samtec, Inc.

John, News Editor for LPM, is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Email John at jboyle@lpm.org.