Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #1

Welcome to Hall Pass. This newsletter keeps you plugged into the conversations driving school board politics and governance. Each week, we bring you sharp commentary and research from across the political spectrum on the issues confronting school boards in the country’s 14,000 school districts. We’ll also bring you the latest on school board elections and recall efforts, including candidate filing deadlines and election results.

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On the issues

In this section, we curate reporting, analysis, and commentary on the issues facing school board members. 

The debate over who gets to decide what’s age-appropriate and what’s necessary in classrooms

Below, Margaret Renkl, a New York Times opinion columnist, writes that the McGinn County, Tennessee, school board’s decision to remove the book Maus from its eighth-grade curriculum is a form of book banning. She says this indicates a nationwide effort to undercut local school board power and threatens public education.

Mark Hemmingway, a Senior Writer at RealClearInvestigations, writes communities should have the ability to decide what meets their standards of acceptability. Hemingway says the national media’s coverage of McMinn County’s removal of Maus has politicized the issue and is taking power away from local school boards.

In Tennessee, the ‘Maus’ Controversy Is the Least of Our Worries | Margaret Renkl, New York Times

“Still, it is possible to trust that the parents in McMinn County are acting in what they believe is the best interest of their children, and also to recognize that these parents are being manipulated by toxic and dangerous political forces operating at the state and national levels. Here in Tennessee, book bans are just a small but highly visible part of a much larger effort to privatize public schools and turn them into conservative propaganda centers. This crusade is playing out in ways that transcend local school board decisions, and in fact are designed to wrest control away from them altogether.”

In Tennessee, the ‘Maus’ Controversy Is the Least of Our Worries | Margaret Renkl, New York Times

Parental Input on Education Is Not ‘Book Banning’ | Mark Hemmingway, Real Clear Politics

“I don’t take concerns about book banning lightly. … However, I’ve also spent more than a decade on the board of a private school, and decisions about what’s taught in K-12 classrooms and what ends up on school library shelves isn’t a tidy free speech issue. When the national media suggest that parents, administrators, and teachers are censors – or, worse, are “banning” books – by making necessary decisions about what reading material is age-appropriate or meets community standards, more often than not these news outlets are the ones politicizing education.”

Parental Input on Education Is Not ‘Book Banning’ | Mark Hemmingway, Real Clear Politics

School board update: filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications

Ballotpedia has historically covered school board elections in about 500 of the country’s largest districts. We’re gradually expanding the number we cover with our eye on all of the roughly 14,000 districts with elected school boards.

Election results from the past week

On Feb. 8, we covered eight school board primary elections in Oklahoma. In Oklahoma, winners in primary contests are determined by majority vote. The top two candidates participate in an April 5 general election if no candidate wins a majority in the first round of balloting.

Twenty-one Oklahoma school board elections within our coverage scope were canceled due to lack of opposition. In 2020, 24 school board primary elections were canceled due to a lack of opposition. 

Union Public Schools Board of Education Zone 2

Edmond Public Schools Board of Education District 2 

Edmond Public Schools Board of Education District 5 (special election) 

Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education District 7

Catoosa Public Schools school board Number 2

  • Stefan Swaggerty won the election outright with 52.4% of the vote. Swaggerty defeated three other candidates.  

Mustang Public Schools Board of Education Seat 2

Piedmont Public Schools school board Number 2

  • Katie Cornman won the election outright with 55.1% of the vote. Cornman defeated two other candidates.  

Broken Arrow Public Schools Board of Education Zone 2

  • Debbie Taylor won the election outright with 51.7% of the vote. Cornman defeated three other candidates.

States with school board filing deadlines in the next 60 days 

  • Texas: The filing deadline for one seat on the Fort Worth Independent School District school board is March 7. The election for a three-year unexpired term takes place on May 7. A runoff, if necessary, is scheduled for June 18.

School board elections or recalls happening in the next 30 days

Ballotpedia’s staff is covering recall elections against four school board members in two districts over the next month. 

Feb. 15 recall elections

March, April, and May will bring primaries or elections in Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Missouri, Nebraska, Texas, and Wisconsin.

School board candidates per seat up for election

So far in 2022, an average of 2.62 candidates are running for each school board seat within our current coverage scope whose filing deadline has passed. This is the most candidates per school board seat since at least 2018. 

The Feb. 15 recall of three San Francisco, Ca., school board members

Three members of the San Francisco Unified School DistrictGabriela López, Alison Collins, and Faauuga Moliga—face recall elections on Feb. 15.

Recall supporters said they are frustrated that schools in the district remained closed for nearly a year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Siva Raj, a parent who filed the notices of intent to recall along with Autumn Looijen, said, “We are parents, not politicians, and intend to stay that way. We are determined to ensure San Francisco’s public schools provide a quality education for every kid in the city.” 

Supporters are also upset the board spent time voting to rename 44 buildings in the district rather than focusing on opening schools. Raj said, “What we saw consistently was a pattern where the school board leadership focused on a lot of political stunts and symbolic gestures like trying to rename schools, and doing that ultimately badly.”

Moliga stood behind his record, saying, “The recall effort shows there is a group of parents that are frustrated with the school board. I am the first Pacific Islander ever elected in office in San Francisco, giving my marginalized community a voice in local government for the first time.” 

Collins said, “We can’t let people scare us. When I see certain people getting upset, I know I’m doing the right thing. If it’s people that have power and don’t want to share it, there’s people who want to make decisions without being inclusive, of course they are going to get upset.”

López characterized the recall against her as sexist, ageist, and racist, saying, “The people who are behind this don’t know us, they don’t know our work, they don’t know what we’ve been doing, they don’t know what we are dedicated to. They hear what’s out there and they recognize this is an opportunity to bring down someone who is me.”

San Francisco Mayor London Breed endorsed the recall on Nov. 9, 2021. “Sadly, our school board’s priorities have often been severely misplaced. During such a difficult time, the decisions we make for our children will have long term impacts. Which is why it is so important to have leadership that will tackle these challenges head on. … Our kids must come first.”

So far in 2022, 24 recall efforts are underway against 64 school board members in Arizona, California, Nebraska, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon, and Virginia. In 2021, we tracked 92 recall efforts nationwide against school board members—more than any year since 2006. The next highest was 38 recall efforts in 2010.

Take our Candidate Connection survey to reach voters in your district

Everyone deserves to know their candidates. However, we know it can be hard for voters to find information about their candidates, especially for local offices such as school boards. That’s why we created Candidate Connection—a survey designed to help candidates tell voters about their campaigns, their issues, and so much more. 

In the 2020 election cycle, 4,745 candidates completed the survey. 

If you’re a school board candidate or incumbent, click here to take the survey.

The survey contains over 30 questions, and you can choose the ones you feel will best represent your views to voters. If you complete the survey, a box with your answers will display on your Ballotpedia profile. Your responses will also populate the information that appears in our mobile app, My Vote Ballotpedia.

And if you’re not running for school board, but there is an election in your community this year, share the link with the candidates and urge them to take the survey!