School board members stay on board in IRSD elections

SUSSEX COUNTY – There won’t be any change in the ranks of the Indian River School District board of education – at least over the next year.

Leolga Wright

Derek Cathell

Incumbents Leolga Wright and Derek Cathell were overwhelming winners in Tuesday’s school board elections.

Ms. Wright, currently in her sixth year on the IRSD board, defeated challenger Dana Probert 349-92 in the District 3 race to secure her second five-year board term.

“I am hoping that it was the fact that the previous five years my record has shown that I have the interest of the district and all of the personnel and students at heart,” said Ms. Wright. “It is a thing called faith. It’s like they had faith in me and they were willing to give me another five-year term to go back and complete some things that haven’t been completed yet.”

In District 5, Derek Cathell, who was appointed to the board back in January to fill a vacancy, out-polled challenger Carla Ziegler 95-27.

“The voter turnout was a little lower than what I had anticipated. Obviously, I am very happy with the results,” said Mr. Cathell, a Delaware State Police detective at Troop 4. “I am very happy that people that live in the 5th District are supporting me and want me to remain in that position for another year.”

Ms. Ziegler was puzzled by the voter turnout.

“One-hundred 22 people voted? In this large District 5?  It’s kind of hard to comprehend when clearly many feel a disconnect with the board,” Ms. Ziegler said. “With that said, either the bulk of our District 5 is content with the current board, or they were not well informed.  With that said, I feel the district should have prepared and implemented a better plan of action in contacting the parents. Letters could have been sent home with each child in the district … even a quarter of a sheet on hot pink paper?! Save the trees but keep the parents aware. The only way parents were informed was the district website and Facebook and two local papers. Clearly not enough.  I had parents contact me even this morning asking when the voting is.”

“I know many of the people that voted are quite irate in regard to the turnout,” Ms. Ziegler said. “It’s not a matter of who the votes went to, it’s a matter of why so little came out to vote? The board of education makes some pretty imperative decisions in our district that affect ALL tax payers. Most definitely more people should be involved.”

Mr. Cathell will serve one year through June 30, 2019 as he is filling out the term of Douglas Hudson, who resigned from the school board upon moving out of District 5.

Ms. Wright, a federal government retiree, joined the IRSD board in July 2012. She was appointed to the board to fill out the term of District 3 representative Randall Hughes, who was appointed to the State Board of Education. In 2013, Ms. Wright sought a full term and defeated Paulette Rappa.

“It is humbling,” Ms. Wright said of Tuesday’s outcome. “When you go for election, you just never know. And to be that overwhelming of a winner I think it sent a message out there that I must have done pretty well in my last five years.”

Ms. Probert was disappointed but not shocked by the results.

“It’s no secret that Miss Wright has a strong following in Long Neck and Oak Orchard, being a member of the community there and the fire company …,” said Ms. Probert. “It’s not totally surprising in that respect. Really, my biggest goal here was to shake things up a bit. This is the first time I have ever attempted anything like this. So, a great learning process. I look forward to doing it again next year and working to continue to get some new perspective on the board in all of the districts, and District 3 being where I can bring some value.”

Next year, IRSD board terms currently held by Mr. Cathell (District 5), Dr. Heather Statler (District 3), Dr. Donald Hattier (District 4) and W. Scott Collins (District 5) expire.

Ms. Probert is considering another run in District 3.

“I don’t have my crystal ball handy, but I would say at this point it would definitely be something that I am looking to do,” said Ms. Probert.

IRSD school board vice president Rodney Layfield (District 2) was unopposed this year in securing another five-year board term.

The only other contested school board race in Sussex County was in the Woodbridge School District. There, Jeffrey W. Allen defeated Darrynn S. Harris by a 167-24 margin.

All board terms begin July 1, 2018.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at

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