Daily Brew: October 27, 2021

This is the final full week ahead of the Nov. 2 general elections. Each day this week, we will be bringing you previews of battleground races at all levels of government. Here’s our schedule for the week:

  • Monday: Federal
  • Tuesday: State
  • Wednesday: School boards
  • Thursday: Cities
  • Friday: Ballot measures

School board elections have become a major focal point in the 2021 elections, driven by everything from the coronavirus pandemic to debates over school curriculum and policies. This year, we are covering 503 school board races in 180 districts across 24 states. Sixty of those seats are up for election on Nov. 2. 

We have also tracked 82 recall efforts against school board officials this year—the highest since we began tracking such recall campaigns in 2010, when there were 38. 

Read on for a look at school board races in which all candidates completed our Candidate Connection survey. Then, we’ll look at our work tracking school board recall efforts, and give you summaries of four school board battleground elections in Colorado, New Jersey, and Georgia.

Candidate Connection survey responses

We believe in providing a space for candidates to share their messages directly with voters. Any candidate for public office can complete our Candidate Connection survey and share what motivates them on political and personal levels. Our survey allows voters to feel confident they’re picking the best candidate for the role that matches their values. In 2020, 4,745 candidates running for offices at all levels of government completed the survey.

We’re highlighting Academy School District 20 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where three at-large seats are up for election on Nov. 2. All 10 candidates completed the Candidate Connection survey. What follows are their responses when asked about the main points they want voters to know about their campaigns:

  • Tiana Clark: “ALL students deserve to thrive which includes a variety of academic opportunities and adequate mental health support”
  • Nicole Konz: “High Expectations & Standards of Academic Excellence”
  • Thomas LaValley: “I want continued academic excellence in Academy District 20.”
  • Brian Coram: “As a board member, I’ll leverage my extensive counseling experience and insight to support the emotional, psychological and mental health of D20 kids.”
  • Nathan Johnson: “I feel that some specific ‘controversial’ curriculum and topics are not appropriate for the mental health and positive overall development of student”
  • Jackie Lesh: “Teacher & Staff Support: As a teacher, I understand the importance of faculty recruitment and retention, by providing competitive compensation, comprehensive benefits, and a supportive work environment for our teachers and staff. I am committed to preserving and improving our ranking as a high-achieving school district.”
  • Lindsay Moore: “Preserving Parental Rights- Parents should have full authority over all decisions made for your children.”
  • Michael Riffle: “Education not politics”
  • Aaron Salt: “Parent’s rights”
  • Jason Silva: “I stand against Critical Race Theory, Critical Theory and any world view that seeks to undermine our God given rights as a free people.”

To see all candidate survey responses, click here

 Other school board races where all candidates have completed the survey are:

School board recall efforts

We have tracked 82 school board recall efforts against 212 board members in 2021. In the first half of the year, 48% of all officials who faced recall campaigns were school board members. This was more than any other type of officeholder, and the first time school board members faced the most recall efforts since 2015.

City council members—the officials who drew the most efforts from 2016 to 2020—accounted for 25% of recall efforts. Between June 2016 and June 2020, school board members accounted for 15% to 27% of officials named in recall efforts.

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Battleground races

Atlanta Public Schools

Nine seats on the Atlanta Public Schools school board in Georgia—three at-large and six district seats—are up for election. Twenty-two candidates, including six incumbents, are on the general election ballot.

Standards for renewing and expanding charter schools have been a major issue in these races. In 2018, the board voted 5-4 to allow KIPP Metro Atlanta, a network of charter schools, to continue to operate until 2023, when the charter must be renewed or terminated. Incumbents Jason Esteves and Eshé Collins supported the KIPP charter, while Cynthia Briscoe Brown, Erika Yvette Mitchell, and Michelle Olympiadis opposed it.

COVID-19 response policies, including mask and vaccine mandates, are also an issue. In addition to implementing a school-wide mask policy and mandatory twice-weekly testing requirement for staff for the 2021-2022 school year, Atlanta Public Schools released a statement on Oct. 7, saying the school district would “continue to study the feasibility and need for a vaccine mandate in our district.”

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Denver Public Schools

Thirteen candidates are running for four seats on the Denver Public Schools school board in Colorado. According to Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization covering education, “Though a majority of the seven board seats are up for grabs, the election is unlikely to shift the balance of power away from members backed by the teachers union.” 

Union-backed candidates held a 5-2 majority on the board heading into the election.

Key issues for the school district include school consolidation and closures for low-enrollment schools, education outcomes for Black students, school safety, coronavirus relief money, and reviews of autonomous charter and innovation schools.

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Jeffco Public Schools

Three seats on the Jeffco Public Schools school board in Colorado are up for election on Nov. 2. The three seats up for election are Districts 1, 2, and 5. 

Three candidates—Danielle Varda (District 1), Paula Reed (District 2), and Mary Parker (District 5)—are running together as the Jeffco Kids Slate. The Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA), the local teachers’ union, endorsed the slate. According to Chalkbeat, the slate is prioritizing staff hiring, teacher retention, and neighborhood schools, while their opponents—Jeffrey Wilhite (District 1), David Johnson (District 2), and Kathy Miks (District 5)—are running on fiscal management and expanding school choice.

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Jersey City Public Schools

Three seats on the Jersey City Public Schools school board in New Jersey are up for election on Nov. 2. Nine candidates are running for the three seats, which are open as all three incumbents chose not to seek re-election.

Paula Jones, Younass Mohamed Barkouch, and Natalia Ioffe are running on the Education Matters slate with an endorsement from the New Jersey Education Association. Erika Baez, Doris Ervin, and Thyson Halley are running on the Change for Children slate. In previous elections, Change for Children slates were backed by the LeFrak Organization, a developer, and were critical of deficits and tax increases.

In 2020, the Education Matters slate won all three seats up for election. In 2019, the Education Matters slate won three seats and two members of the Change for Children slate won the other two up for election.

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