Monroe County residents elected new school board members in both of the county’s school corporations Tuesday.
Monroe County Community School Corporation, the larger of the two school corporations, contains seven districts with one school board member representing each district. This year, three MCCSC school board seats were up for election.
The Richland-Bean Blossom Community School Corporation school board consists of five seats, with two up for election this year.
While all school board members serve four-year terms, only some seats are up for election because the terms run on staggered schedules.
School boards influence school corporations by making big-picture decisions such as hiring superintendents or approving budgets. The most pressing issues debated in the Monroe County school board elections this year included school safety, transportation and racial equity.
MCCSC District 1
Erin Wyatt won the District 1 seat on the MCCSC school board with approximately 50% of votes as of just after 9 p.m. Tuesday.
According to the Indiana Daily Student’s Live Election Updates dashboard, Wyatt earned 9,660 of votes counted thus far, while Tabetha Crouch earned 6,073 votes and Byron Turner earned 3,565 votes.
"I am so grateful to all the voters in Monroe County who put their trust in me and I look forward to the opportunity to work with the other board members to create a culture of equity, and work to enact policies that will ensure the academic, health and social needs of our students are met," Wyatt said in a statement to the IDS on Tuesday.
Wyatt, a registered nurse, prioritized student health, school safety, equity, accessibility and the Whole Child Approach throughout her campaign. Wyatt’s three children all currently attend MCCSC schools.
Beyond being an MCCSC mother, Wyatt worked as a health services employee at Templeton Elementary School in 2017 and 2018. This experience opened Wyatt’s eyes to the school corporation’s need for improved health services, Wyatt said. She aims to increase the number of full-time registered nurses employed by MCCSC, as the school corporation does not meet the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation of at least one registered nurse per 750 students.
"It will continue to be my goal to shine a light on the importance of school nurses and find a solution to our problems with nurse to student ratios," Wyatt said in a statement to the IDS.
Templeton is a Title 1 school, meaning it receives extra government funding due to high percentages of low-income students. Wyatt planned the first Templeton Healthapalooza to connect families with health services. She said the event helped parents find health insurance coverage for their children and taught basic community health skills such as how to treat head lice or cook affordable healthy meals.
Now an IU School of Nursing Ph.D. candidate researching marginalized populations, Wyatt advocates for MCCSC schools to employ the Whole Child Approach. Wyatt said meeting students’ basic health and safety needs is the best way to achieve academic success.
Wyatt also applies this mentality to school safety. While opposed to re-arming School Resource Officers, Wyatt said she recognizes school safety as a major issue and plans to prevent violence through increased mental health services in schools. In a Sept. 26 public school board candidate forum, Wyatt proposed programs to educate families on how to safely store weapons away from children.
Crouch, one of the candidates who campaigned against Wyatt for the District 1 seat, emphasized the importance of re-arming School Resource Officers during her campaign. She said in a concession statement to the IDS on Tuesday night she is concerned to have a school board that does not believe in utilizing all resources available to ensure school safety.
"I'm certainly disappointed but I ran a clean campaign, staying true to my values and beliefs," Crouch said. "My focus was on my campaign and not that of my opponent. There are issues in our school system that I will continue to advocate against. Electing school board officials who do not support providing our SROs with all of the tools, resources and training needed to do their jobs is detrimental to the safety of our students and staff."
MCCSC District 3
Ashley Pirani won the District 3 seat on the MCCSC school board with approximately 46% of votes as of just after 9 p.m. Tuesday.
According to the Indiana Daily Student’s Live Election Updates dashboard, Pirani earned 9,181 of votes counted thus far, while Daniel O’Neill earned 6,675 votes and Jon Hays earned 4,222 votes.
“I am eternally grateful to my team and our volunteer for all the hours they put into this campaign,” Pirani said in a victory statement to the IDS Tuesday night. “I am here because of each one of them. I am looking forward to beginning my term and getting to work with the other Board Trustees, especially on the Strategic Plan. Thank you to those who cast their vote for me. I look forward to working hard for our students, teachers, and staff.”
Pirani, an Operations Manager at Shine Insurance, prioritized teacher retention, redistricting, equity, school safety, mental health and Individualized Education Programs throughout her campaign.
As a current Beacon Inc. board member, a previous Beacon Development Committee chair and a The Persisterhood Workshop advisory board member, Pirani devotes much of her time to serving on boards of local nonprofits.
In addition to working with local nonprofits, Pirani is president of the Highland Park Elementary Parent Teacher Organization. As PTO president, Pirani said she hears teachers’ pleas for increased funding and support. Pirani said she will emphasize supporting teachers and other staff in hopes of increasing retention and combating the Indiana teacher shortage.
Yet, Pirani said one of her most important qualifications is her experience as a mother to two MCCSC students, including one with an Individualized Education Program. IEPs present their own benefits and challenges to navigating the school system, something Pirani said gives her a different perspective than many MCCSC parents.
Additionally, she hopes to reassess school district boundaries. She said people don’t realize boundaries are an equity issue because districts that fail to account for the increase in population can cause resource strains for overpopulated schools.
With regards to school safety, Pirani wants to keep guns out of school — which includes not arming Student Resource Officers. Instead of arming SROs, Pirani supports addressing gun violence by providing mental health services.
Pirani said she chose to run for school board after hearing some alarming ideas about book banning and white-washing history. She said she aims to stop those beliefs from gaining a foothold within MCCSC.
MCCSC District 7
Brandon Shurr ran unopposed to win the District 7 seat on the MCCSC school board.
The current MCCSC school board president, Shurr is the only incumbent candidate across the three MCCSC races. Shurr has been a member of the school board since 2018. Prior to his 2018 victory, Shurr lost a close race in 2014 after earning 49% of votes.
R-BB Richland District
Dana Kerr won the Richland District seat on the R-BB school board with approximately 71% of votes as of just after 9 p.m. Tuesday.
According to the Indiana Daily Student’s Live Election Updates dashboard, Kerr earned 2,528 of votes counted thus far, while Karl Boehm earned 1,041 votes.
Kerr, an attorney at Kerr Law, emphasized the importance of career readiness, project-based learning, preschool and new facilities during his campaign.
The current R-BB school board president, this will mark Kerr’s fifth term representing the Richland District on the board. He said his experience means he understands the intricacies of the school board’s procedures. When asked why he wants to continue his work on the school board, Kerr said he sees an opportunity to expand and improve initiatives he helped begin, such as the Ready Schools program and R-BB preschools.
Ready Schools focuses on innovative learning, career preparedness and community engagement by promoting life skills and project-based learning. Kerr said R-BB needs to set students up for success after graduation, whatever that may look like. A proponent of the Ready Schools program, he wants to continue funding science, technology, engineering, art and math resources such as the robotics program or the innovation lab equipped with video audio recording areas. The Ready Schools program also offers career experiences including local internships and a student-run coffee shop.
Preschool is another program Kerr wants to develop. R-BB opened a new preschool facility designed to house 100 students in March 2022. Enrollment filled up in about 20 minutes. Kerr said the significant demand for a larger preschool system is something he noticed and aims to prioritize if reelected for school board.
R-BB Bean Blossom District
Angela Jacobs, an incumbent school board member, ran unopposed to win the Bean Blossom District seat on the R-BB school board.