With the controversy surrounding three former Western Heights Public Schools board members slightly abated following their November resignations, Tuesday’s runoff election for Office No. 3 in the far southwest Oklahoma City school district could seem like a breath of fresh air for voters.
Turnout, however, has sagged in the school district during past elections. About 3,600 people reside in each of the board’s five districts. But in the Feb. 14 primary, only 220 people turned out to vote for the vacant Office No. 3 seat, sending Kelly Brown and Brayden Hunt to the April 4 runoff with 41.36 percent and 36.82 percent of the vote, respectively. The pair beat Bud Ward, who garnered 21.82 percent of the vote.
Both Brown and Hunt are parents in the district. Brown has five kids, the last of whom graduated in 2020, while Hunt has a daughter who will start school in the district in the coming years.
‘Cleaning up all the mess’
Both Brown and Hunt emphasized their personal involvement in the Western Heights district as motivation to run for the seat.
“So now, I want to be part of the back end,” Brown said. “Because I was a parent, so I was involved in band, all of that type of stuff.”
Hunt said that, as a young parent and youth pastor trying to meet people in the district, an apparent lack of community engagement is one of his biggest issues.
“I would like to see community engagement go way up,” Hunt said. “And I think that (…) responsibility is on the board members first and foremost, because if we’re not showing up (…), then it’s almost unfair to call on other people in the community to do what we’re not doing. I think that’s been something that has been pretty apparent in the past.”
Hunt holds a master’s degree in theological studies from Iliff School of Theology in Colorado. He currently teaches in-school intervention at Taft Middle School in Oklahoma City Public Schools.
Both candidates also emphasized issues with the deeply unpopular former school board members, who resigned in November after months of pressure.
“We also did have issues with the [former] board members and stuff like that,” Brown said. “So I want to be able to help that out and get them back on track.”
Hunt said that while the district is now on the right track, there is still work to do.
“All of the major issues that I have had — or the major issues that I perceive with the district — seem to all be heading in the right direction,” Hunt said.
Hunt added that while the district’s administrative employees are largely “cleaning up all the mess,” transparency is still important.
“I don’t want us to lose sight of the fact that we still need transparency, especially as it relates to the district’s finances and just the decision making processes that we have in place,” Hunt said.
‘The flagship school that it used to be’
Brown recalled Western Heights Public Schools’ history, and said communicating a different perception for the district would be one of her priorities if elected.
“I’m basically trying to get Western Heights to the flagship school that it used to be at one time,” Brown said.
Brown said Western Heights is somewhat unique as a small public school district in Oklahoma’s largest city.
“Western Heights can also be as good [as other districts],” Brown said. “Western Heights is public school, but it’s small. At the same time, I believe that it can also be small, but powerful.”
Hunt echoed a similar sentiment.
“There is this feeling of — it’s almost like a separate little town,” Hunt said. “But I think what sets it apart in general is just the incredible diversity of people and experiences that that you can find here.”
Both candidates emphasized their friendliness with one other and recognized that each wants what is best for students in the district as it moves beyond the shadow of its former leadership.
But Hunt said that he could be better positioned to win because he has been planning to run for the seat since 2020 and began organizing his campaign at that time. In various roles serving Western Heights students, Hunt said he had formed connections with many stakeholders across the district.
To the contrary, Brown said her long history with the district separates her from Hunt.
“I believe — just being a parent — I just want to bridge the gap between the students, the parents, and the school staff,” Brown said. “I believe that’s very important — us coming together.”
Polls will be open in Oklahoma on Election Day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.