Piller, Wilmot appear to be out in State Board of Education race
BY JUDITH NYGREN Omaha World Herald - November 6, 2002

Two incumbents appeared to have been ousted from the Nebraska State Board of Education, ushering in what many hope will be more unified, conciliatory leadership from the state's top education policymakers.

With as many as 5,000 ballots yet to be counted in Douglas County, incumbent Kathryn Piller narrowly trailed challenger Joe Higgins for the Omaha-metropolitan district.

Incumbent Kathy Wilmot appeared to have lost the vote to challenger Kandy Imes in the huge district that represents western Nebraska. But Imes' edge was so thin an automatic recount is considered likely.

The state won't know whether the recount is needed until all provisional, absentee and conditional ballots are counted and ballot results are certified, a process that could stretch out a couple of weeks.

Fred Meyer, the only other incumbent in a contested race, retained his seat, handily defeating Paul Allen in the district that covers much of central Nebraska.

Board President Steve Scherr, a Hastings lawyer, was the only candidate in the district covering southeast Nebraska.

While victories for Higgins and Imes are far from final, many were celebrating Wednesday morning.

"This is a very good day" for education, said Karen Kilgarin, whose Nebraska teachers union threw its support behind all on the board who either are ahead or who won.

Higgins, a retired Westside High School teacher, already has lined up a celebration event for next week and was crediting his campaign workers with his lead over Piller.

Piller, an education consultant who travels around the country, wasn't campaigning in the district as aggressively as he was, Higgins said. If Piller had been more visible, he said, the election results could have been very different.

Higgins said he and Piller agree on many issues. What separated them at the polls is their style, he said.

Piller, often in the minority on board votes, sometimes spars with State Education Commissioner Doug Christensen and fellow board members. Higgins promised to build consensus.

Imes, a longtime Gering school board member, also spoke of her willingness to work more closely with other policymakers, both on the state board and in the Legislature.

Wilmot, a Beaver City resident who works for the Kansas Department of Corrections, falls into the minority with Piller on many key issues, including how to best assess student achievement.

Nebraska allows school districts to design their own assessments. Piller and Wilmot advocate a single, statewide test.

Meyer, a St. Paul farmer, said it would serve the board well if Imes and Higgins prevailed.