Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #6

Welcome to Hall Pass. This newsletter keeps you plugged into the conversations driving school board politics and governance. Each week, we bring you a roundup of the latest on school board elections, along with 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.

In today’s edition, you’ll find:

  • On the issues: The debate over parental access to teaching materials
  • School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
  • An update on school board recall efforts
  • Candidate Connection survey

On the issues

In this section, we curate reporting, analysis, and commentary on the issues school board members deliberate when they set out to offer the best education possible in their district.

The debate over parental access to teaching materials

One debate currently playing out in legislatures and school districts is whether schools should have to post curriculum and teacher training materials online. For example, on March 14, the Arizona State Senate passed SB 1211, a bill that would require schools to post curriculum and classroom activities online. The bill now goes to the House for consideration. 

Below, Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and director of the Institute’s initiative on critical race theory, writes that parents should be able to see what public schools teach their children. Rufo says parental access to curricular materials is especially important on issues like race, gender and sex, and political ideology. 

Natalie Wexler, a senior contributor at Forbes, writes that the lack of published curriculum online does not indicate schools and school districts are hiding politically charged teaching materials. Wexler says teachers rarely rely on a set curriculum, so it is difficult to share their materials with parents. Wexler says greater reliance on curriculum could improve learning outcomes, but transparency bills on controversial topics could disincentivize the use of curriculum. 

The Fight for Curriculum Transparency | Christopher Rufo, City Journal

“The case for curriculum transparency rests on an irrefutable moral argument: parents have the right to know what the government is teaching their children. Parents are not only taxpayers but also the primary stakeholders in the public education system. Approximately 90 percent of American families entrust their children’s education to public schools. That system’s minimum responsibility is to provide accurate, timely, and comprehensive information about the curriculum—especially as it relates to sensitive and controversial topics such as race, gender, identity, and political ideology. The recent parent backlash underscores the importance of transparency. Millions of American families feel that the public schools are working against their values. Transparency legislation is the bare minimum for public schools to start rebuilding trust with these families.”

We Need ‘Curriculum Transparency,’ But Not The Kind Some State Bills Would Require | Natalie Wexler, Forbes

“[M]ost state education officials are clueless about what materials are actually being used in school districts. Local district officials often don’t know what materials are being used in school buildings. Even principals may be unclear about what teachers are using in the classroom down the hall. And teachers themselves may not know what materials they’ll be using in class until the night before. Clearly that would make it difficult, if not impossible, to post ‘curriculum’ online. … If curriculum transparency is reduced to a vehicle for challenges to supposedly offensive or divisive texts, schools may shy away from including any content in their curricula. They’ll stick with or return to an ELA [English language arts] curriculum that consists of the usual round of ‘comprehension skills’ and doesn’t specify any content whatsoever.”

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.

States with school board filing deadlines in the next 30 days   

April 15

Upcoming school board elections

Districts in the following states will hold general school board elections on April 5:

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • Oklahoma
  • Missouri
  • Wisconsin 

We’ll preview those elections in more detail in our next issue

We’re covering one school board recall election in the next 30 days. The March 29 recall is against Tim Stentiford, one of the 12 members of the Regional School Unit 21 school board in Maine. 

Recall supporters listed a loss of teachers in the district, increased spending on human resources, and the lack of a school board curriculum committee as reasons for the recall. The affidavit to recall LeBlanc said his “role in negotiating the most recent teachers contract and its impact on staff attrition, the failure to seat a curriculum committee and a failure in executive leadership by allowing teachers, parents and community members to be bullied and admonished in public meetings, has caused a loss of confidence in his ability to perform the duties and responsibilities of the office.”

Stentiford had not responded to the recall effort. However, board Chair Art LeBlanc, whom recall supporters tried unsuccessfully to include in the recall effort, said on Nov. 23, 2021:

“The Board’s goals are to provide a high quality public education, to be leaders in our state and nation academically, and to ensure that our staff receive competitive salaries and benefits. We are proud of the concrete and undeniable steps that the district has taken in the past two years to support our employees during the pandemic, to move our salary scales in a meaningful manner, and provide for the health and safety of our students and employees. Members of the Board are aware that there is a well-organized group that meet regularly and seem focused on discrediting the work of the Board and the administration for political gain. Despite the efforts of this group to cast doubt on the Board’s commitment to our motives, the Board will remain steadfast in its commitment to support our students and employees.”

Read more about this recall here

School board candidates per seat up for election

For the 204 school board races we are covering whose filing deadlines have passed, an average of 2.19 candidates are running for each seat.

This year’s school board recall elections so far

According to our year-end recall analysis, we tracked more recall efforts in 2021 than any other year since we began compiling recall data in 2012. Notably, for the first time since we began tracking recalls, school board members faced more recalls than any other office type. 

So far this year, we’ve tracked 28 recall efforts against 69 school board officials—the highest number of recalls across all officials (city council members were next, with 57 officials named in recalls). 

Six school board recalls have gone to a vote this year against 11 officials. Of those eleven officials, four were successfully recalled from office.

Looking ahead, Tim Stentiford, discussed above, will face a recall on March 29. Recall efforts in Nevada, California, Michigan, New Jersey, and elsewhere are currently underway, meaning that recall supporters have filed with the relevant election office but are waiting for petitions to be approved, circulating petitions, or waiting for signatures to be verified. We’ll keep you updated on those efforts, and any new efforts that come up each week. 

Here’s where we’ve tracked recall efforts this year:

In 2021, California accounted for almost 30% of the country’s school board recall elections. 

Twenty-three states allow for the recall of school board members.

Six of the states that allow school board recalls require specific grounds to be met in order for a recall effort to move forward, such as malfeasance or misfeasance in office. The number of signatures required to get a school board recall on the ballot varies by state. Common factors for calculating the signature requirement include the size of the board member’s jurisdiction and the number of votes cast in a previous election. In all but one of the states, recall elections are held if enough signatures are collected. Virginia is the exception. If enough signatures are collected in that state, a trial is held at the circuit court level.

The amount of time recall petitions are allowed to be circulated also varies by state. Georgia, Nebraska, and North Carolina have the shortest petition circulation time with 30 days. Out of the states that have a time limit for circulating petitions, Washington has the longest with 180 days. New Mexico, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Virginia do not have a time limit for petition circulation

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!