In one of the closest and most divisive races for seats on the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education, incumbent Debra Mullins appears to have defeated her challenger, Vicki Pate, for a seat representing Nikiski.
Mullins, who has more than a decade of cumulative board experience and is slated to serve as president of the Alaska Association of School Boards this year, was leading candidate Vicki Pate for the seat in District 3-Nikiski late Tuesday night.
By about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, Mullins had just under 60 percent of the votes, while Pate was holding at 40 percent. About 111 votes separated the candidates.
Pate, who was running on a platform advocating the separation of schools and state, said early in the race that she was running to get her ideas out and didn't expect to win.
Mullins said she was not surprised by the results.
"I never underestimate opponents in elections," she said.
However, she said she remained confident that her lead trend would hold.
"You don't know until you know, but usually trends don't tend to change," she said.
"I think there's a big enough lead that the absentee ballots and the questioned ballots will hold steady. With that assumption, I guess I'm looking forward to continuing my work on the board and my continued service to the kids of the district."
Pate was out of town Tuesday night and unavailable for comment.
The Mullins-Pate race was one of only three contested races in the election of school board members, despite the nine openings on the newly reapportioned board.
In District 1-Kalifornsky, former teacher and five-year school board veteran Sammy Crawford beat six-time candidate Gene Dyson. As of about 11 p.m. Tuesday, Crawford had 66 percent of the votes to Dyson's 33 percent.
"I'm pleased that the voters realize the challenges we have ahead and that having experience to help make these decisions is, I think, what they saw was important," Crawford said Tuesday night. "I think voters want to stay the course, and I think they're not ready for a change."
In the final contested race, former borough assembly member Debbie Holle of Kasilof beat Melanie Osterman for a seat in District 7-Central. Both are newcomers to the school board scene and touted similar platforms, including closer scrutiny of nonessential budget items in the cash-strapped district.
Neither were available for comment Tuesday night.
Another point of interest in the race is District 9-South Peninsula, where no candidates filed to run for election. A school board member will be elected by write-in votes.
Current board members said they have heard at least three separate campaigns had been mounted in the district, which encompasses all of the south peninsula outside the Homer city limits, including Anchor Point and communities across Kachemak Bay.
According to preliminary election results, only about 15 percent of the district's registered voters cast ballots in Tuesday's election, and while all votes obviously went to write-in candidates, names were unavailable as of the Clarion's deadline. A winner is expected to be announced today.
Also elected were incumbents Margaret Gilman, District 2-Kenai, Nels Anderson, District 4-Soldotna, and Deborah Germano, District 8-Homer. All three ran unopposed and received more than 90 percent of votes in their precincts.
Likewise, newcomer Marty Anderson ran unopposed in District 5-Sterling/Funny River and also received more than 90 percent of his district's votes.
Finally, Sandy Wassilie, the sole candidate in District 6-Seward, was elected by her constituents. Wassilie has a few months' experience on the board from when she was appointed to fill Mike Chenault's seat after he was elected to the Alaska House of Representatives in 2000. She lost her re-election bid to Gilman in 2001.
District Superintendent Donna Peterson said she has high hopes for the coming year with the new board.
"I'm looking forward to working with whoever will be seated," she said Tuesday night.
There is likely to be plenty of work to do.
Among the primary issues facing members will be monetary challenges. The district is expecting another tight year financially, and decisions before the board likely will include staffing formulas, class sizes and the fate of cocurricular activities and nonessential programs.
Board members will be seated at the next meeting at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 20 at the Borough Building. Officers will be elected at that time.
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