Members of citizen groups grab seats on Scott, Clark school boards

Citizen groups that have been blasting school officials in Scott and Clark counties this year put new members on school boards in both counties in Tuesday's election.

Candidates associated with the Stand Up Clark County citizens group won two seats on the Clark County Board of Education, ousting two incumbents in the process.

Meanwhile, candidates active in the Too Big To Succeed movement in Scott County grabbed two seats on that county's board of education. An incumbent who had sided with the citizens' group was re-elected.

The election results potentially could give both citizen groups a major say in school policy decisions when new board members take their seats next year.

Patti Columbia, a leader in Stand Up Clark County, said Wednesday that among other things, her group hopes to see changes in the Clark County Public Schools' facilities plan. Many residents oppose a part of the plan calling for the merger of two middle schools and the closure of three small schools, she said.

"We think the facilities plan should be reversed and the small schools kept open," Columbia said. "It's been very badly done."

Stand Up Clark County grew out an uproar over the firing of Paul Columbia as the George Rogers Clark High School football coach last December. The group later expanded its complaints to general concerns over the Clark school system, at one point calling for the resignation of Superintendent Elaine Farris.

Patti Columbia, Paul Columbia's wife, said after Tuesday's election the group hopes its concerns will be heard.

"The main point Stand Up Clark County wanted to get across is the need for open communication between the board and the community, and that concerns would be addressed," she said.

Two candidates backed by Stand Up Clark County, Michael McGowan and Ashley Ritchie, won seats on the school board Tuesday. Beth Griffith, also elected to the board Tuesday, is not aligned with the citizens group. But Patti Columbia said she's confident McGowan and Ritchie can work with her.

The Too Big To Succeed group coalesced in Scott County early this year around opposition to the county Board of Education's decision to build a new elementary school. Group members argued there was a greater need for a new, second high school.

On Tuesday, Scott County voters elected Jo Anna Fryman and Jennifer Holbert to the school board, as well as re-electing incumbent Haley Conway. Fryman and Holbert participated in the Too Big To Succeed campaign, while Conway generally has supported the citizen group's cause.

Conway said Wednesday that he's hopeful that he, Fryman and Holbert can work together.

"I had an opportunity today to speak with both of them, and I think there's an opportunity to really do something special here," Conway said.

Meanwhile, all three Fayette County School Board incumbents — board chair John Price, vice chair Melissa Bacon and Daryl Love — ran without opposition.