Tauriainen beats Arness for Nikiski school board seat

A new face will be representing Nikiski and Tyonek on the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s Board of Education.

Jason Tauriainen has beat long-time board member, and current board president, Joe Arness, according to unofficial results from Tuesday’s election.

With absentee votes yet to be counted, Tauriainen received 708 votes to Arness’s 484, winning the three-year term for District 3.

“I’m super thankful for all the support — from the people that voted for me, to those that helped my campaign,” Tauriainen said on Tuesday night after polls had closed. “I’m ready to do my best to represent Nikiski and Tyonek, to help our schools continue to achieve excellence.”

Although Tauriainen is new to the board, he is not new to the school district. He is a graduate of the Nikiski school system and worked as a support staff member at Nikiski Middle-High School, both in the classroom and as custodial staff, he said in his candidate statement.

“I want to thank Joe for his years of service,” Tauriainen said.

Arness had served on and off on the school board for 21 years. He also served on the borough assembly for three years.

“We hold elections to find out how folks are feeling and they obviously didn’t like the job I was doing. … This is not the first election I’ve ever lost. Somebody wins and somebody loses. I just hope he takes good care of my district,” Arness said. “… I take a lot of pride in this district.”

Tauriainen said he was happy neither candidate ran a negative campaign.

“We both just talked about why we felt like we were the best choices, and I’m thankful that they heard my message and I really appreciate the support that came out for me tonight,” he said. “I’m very happy with the results and blessed by the support.”

There will be another new face on the board with Debbie Cary winning a three-year seat in District 7. Cary ran unopposed, taking over Bill Holt’s seat after he decided not to seek re-election. She garnered 1,101 votes as of Tuesday night, less absentee ballots.

This will be Cary’s first public office. She currently has two students attending school in Ninilchik and was often vocal at school board meetings about her concerns with staffing losses at Ninilchik School due to decreasing enrollment.

In her candidate profile, Cary said that “moving forward in this diverse economic and social society we need to ensure we are all prepared for the global world around us.”

Penny Vadla will hold the District 4 seat for another three-year term. Valda, who has been on the board since 2008, also ran unopposed and received 1,021 votes as of Tuesday night.

Vadla has also worked in education for over 40 years, which gives her “firsthand knowledge of the underpinnings of the school district,” Vadla said in her candidate statement.

In Homer, District 8 also saw an uncontested school board election and re-elected Mike Illg for a one-year term. Illg, who filled a vacant seat on the board in Oct. 2016, received 1,181 votes as of Tuesday night.

“We all need to be a part of the solution to ensure we continue to provide the best possible educational opportunity as the children are depending upon us to get it right the first time,” Illg said in his candidate statement.

The next Board of Education meeting will be held on Oct. 16 at 6 p.m. in the Borough Administration Building.

Reach Kat Sorensen at kat.sorensen@peninsulaclarion.com.