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Incumbents sweep seats in Jefferson County Board of Education election

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Incumbents swept all four Jefferson County Board of Education races on the ballot Tuesday, signaling voters’ satisfaction with the direction of the state’s largest public school system.

District 1 member and board chair Diane Porter is projected to hold onto her seat.

Porter and her fellow incumbents have steered the district through one of the most tumultuous periods for education in recent memory, making agonizing decisions about how to balance students’ educational needs with safety during a deadly pandemic.

They’ve also dealt with longstanding hot-button issues. In the last two years, members passed a significant tax increase, overhauled a decades-old desegregation plan and approved a new plan for armed police on school campuses.

Because mask mandates and other COVID-19 safety measures became politicized, even in a nonpartisan race, the board’s relatively cautious approach to pandemic-era learning left incumbents open to political attack from the right. So did some incumbents’ support for tax increases and racial equity efforts. 

Each incumbent drew at least one challenger backed by local conservative groups opposed to mask mandates, remote learning and other issues around race and gender that became resonant with some conservatives nationally. 

Those opponents organized largely through the Facebook group “Jefferson County Kids Matter,” and have been front and center at board meetings over the last two years, railing against masks, racial equity efforts, and books that center LGBTQ characters

But Tuesday’s results suggest they’re a vocal minority in Jefferson County.

In District 3, in northeast Jefferson County, Steve Ullum, one of the most prominent members of “Jefferson County Kids Matter,” is projected to have lost by just over 1,000 votes to incumbent James Craig.

In District 6, preliminary results show incumbent Corrie Shull, a vocal proponent of racial equity initiatives, beat out conservative-backed challenger Misty Glin by a margin of more than 2,100 votes.

In addition to Jefferson County’s progressive political leanings, incumbents benefitted from nearly $800,000 the local teachers’ union’s political action committee spent on advertisements. 

The union PAC, Better Schools Kentucky, had outspent conservative PAC Kentucky Tomorrow, Inc., more than 10 to 1 as of November 1. 

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.