Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #74

Welcome to Hall Pass, a newsletter written to keep you plugged into the conversations driving school board politics and governance.

In today’s edition, you’ll find:

  • On the issues: The debate over transportation delays in Jefferson County school district 
  • In your district: reader replies on managing policy disagreements between board members
  • Share candidate endorsements with us! 
  • School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
  • Research preview: open-enrollment policies 
  • Extracurricular: education news from around the web
  • Candidate Connection survey

Email us at editor@ballotpedia.org share reactions or story ideas!

On the issues: The debate over transportation delays in Jefferson County school district

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. Missed an issue? Click here to see the previous education debates we’ve covered.

Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), the largest district in Kentucky, canceled school Aug. 10-17 following school bus transportation delays on Aug. 9—the first day of school in the district. The final students were not dropped off at home until about 10 p.m that day. The delays were related to driver shortages and the school’s routing software. 

Twelve state legislators from Jefferson County write that structural changes are needed to prevent similar problems in the future. Their proposed changes include splitting JCPS into multiple smaller districts and allowing parents greater choice in deciding where their kids go to school. They also suggested changes to JCPS leadership might be necessary.

Brooklyn Smith writes that JCPS should not be blamed for the transportation delays and school cancellations. Smith says splitting the district, encouraging families to switch to private schools, and other structural changes would hurt employees and students. She says instead JCPS needs support to promote public education, pay bus drivers more, and respond to community input.

An Open Letter to JCPS Parents, Teachers, Students, and Taxpayers | Rep. Jared Bauman, Sen. Matt Deneen, Rep. Kevin Bratcher, Sen. Julie Raque Adams, Rep. Emily Callaway, Sen. Mike Nemes, Rep. John Hodgson, Sen. Lindsey Tichenor, Rep. Ken Fleming, Sen. Adrienne Southworth, Rep. Jason Nemes, Rep. Susan Witten, Twitter

“Yesterday, JCPS failed in its most fundamental obligation, which is to keep our kids safe. To begin with, this epic failure did not come out of the blue, as warnings were echoed across the county throughout the summer. This is the last straw. This community has talked for years about the need for structural changes, but nothing has really changed. Sadly, it is undeniable that the priorities of this school board are not the safety and academic excellence of our students. So here is our plan, and we welcome ideas from all of you. First, Rep. Bratcher will re-file his bill where all students by law will have the right to attend their neighborhood schools. … Second, we will call for a commission to evaluate splitting up JCPS. … Third, we will call for extensive changes to our school board. … Fourth … we support putting a school choice amendment on the 2024 ballot for the voters to decide. … Finally, we call on the Governor to call the General Assembly into special session for the purpose of immediately enacting the above policies and to take other steps to protect students and support parents in Jefferson County. In sum, yesterday’s debacle must be the catalyst for change. Our school district has failed for far too long. For the good of our community and, most importantly, for the future of our children, we must act boldly. And we must act now.”

Letters: Anger at JCPS is justified, yet misplaced. We must work together as a community | Brooklyn Smith, The Courier-Journal

“JCPS employees and the community must work together as a united front to protect Kentucky public education. The justified, yet displaced anger toward and among JCPS employees concerning transportation is fueling Kentucky anti-public school legislation. This makes the largest district in Kentucky vulnerable to division, charter schools and privatized education, which will actively disempower employees and deprive underserved students of the equitable education they deserve. The recent failure to safely implement new start times and keep students in school proves that elected officials are passing legislation without our children, JCPS employees, or community in mind. As a united front, we will demand that JCPS employees and the community have direct input in district wide transportation decisions, and that bus drivers are given the livable wages and safe working conditions they deserve. Together we will protect and ensure the right of all children in JCPS and Kentucky to a free, high quality public education and safe transportation to the school of their choice regardless of their race, gender or socioeconomic status.”

In your district: reader replies on managing policy disagreements between board members

We recently asked readers the following question about managing disagreements between board members:

How should board members address policy disagreements with others on the board?

Thank you to all who responded. Today, we’re sharing a handful of those responses. We’ll return next month with another reader question. If you have ideas for a question you’d like to see us ask, reply to this email to let us know!

A parent and community member from Colorado wrote

“Conflict Resolution processes should be defined and clear. And the board should act as a team. When they disagree, they should go through a process to help find a reasonable middle ground solution. We need to find resolutions and work together on behalf of students we serve, not fight all the time over our politics and beliefs. Keep the main thing the main thing and have a clear vision, mission, and purpose that guides the decision making process. If people get nasty with one another, fire them and bring in team players.”

A former school board member and current board candidate from Kansas wrote:

“They should address their opinions in open meetings (work sessions if necessary). They should not contact other members of the BOE in serial one on one meetings to sidestep state sunshine laws. Once the BOE votes on the issue, all members of the board should support the majority view. How strongly they support the majority opinion is up to them. They should resign from the BOE if they can not support the majority opinion.”

A school board member from Michigan wrote

“We have a Policy Committee of 4 including our Superintendent who monthly scrutinizes policies and will bring in MASB if clarification is needed.  The policies are presented to the board as a whole for 2 readings.  In the first reading  the board members state their opinions.  The policy committee states their research findings. Our colleagues trust the work of the policy committee and by the 2 reading there is a group consensus, which eliminates board conflict.”

A school board president from Pennsylvania wrote:

“All Directors should be given an opportunity to express their personal opinion on the matter.  Then they get 1 vote like the rest of the Directors.  Majority rules.”

A school board member from New Jersey wrote:

“With honesty, no political agenda, transparency, empathy, sympathy, respect, professionalism, as well as speaking from a place that represents the community and their concerns/questions.”

A school board president from Colorado wrote:

“Workshops and group discussions at work sessions or other non-formal events provide an opportunity for discussion but the biggest need is for board members to address their own agreements and recognize when they are defending and persuading others rather than listening and finding a way to comprehend the viewpoints of those opposed to your ideas.”

A community member from Tennessee wrote:

“In writing – Issue, existing policy/rules, analysis of issue, recommendation or conclusion.  Serialized – retained for public inquiry – follow up/revisited for unintended consequences and mistakes.  Board members have different roles – curriculum, finance and budget, personnel and union, collateral equipment and supplies, etc.  Only those board members involved – could be all or few – should put forth the effort in resolving.  It goes without saying that special interest groups, consultants, contractors, and others have different lines of action of disagreeing with a policy…and not consulted.”

Share candidate endorsements with us! 

As part of our goal to solve the ballot information problem, Ballotpedia is gathering information about school board candidate endorsements. The ballot information gap widens the further down the ballot you go, and is worst for the more than 500,000 local offices nationwide, such as school boards or special districts. Endorsements can help voters know more about their candidates and what they stand for. 

Do you know of an individual or group that has endorsed a candidate in your district? 

Click here to respond!

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 the more than 13,000 districts with elected school boards.

Upcoming school board elections


Recall elections against West Bonner County School Board members Keith Rutledge and Susan Brown are being held on Aug. 29. Recall supporters initiated the effort when the board voted 3-1 to reject curriculum it had previously endorsed because of concerns about social emotional learning. Click here to read the recall petitions and Rutledge’s and Brown’s responses.

New Hampshire

Fourteen seats on the Manchester School District school board in New Hampshire are up for general election on Nov. 7. A primary is scheduled for Sept. 19. We’ll bring you more about these elections in a future issue. 

November elections

Nov. 7 is the biggest election date of the year, and voters across the country will decide state and local races—including for school boards (subscribe to our Daily Brew newsletter for neutral coverage and analysis of elections up and down the ballot). Throughout the fall, we’ll bring you previews of the most interesting and pivotal school board elections happening that day. For now, however, let’s step back and take a look at the big picture.

We’re covering school board elections in the following 16 states on Nov. 7:

In seven of those states—Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington—we are covering all school board elections on Nov. 7. We’ll be bringing you extensive detailed coverage in the coming months up until those elections.

You can learn more about our school board election coverage here

Research preview: open-enrollment policies 

Next month, we’ll publish the results of a monthslong research project into open-enrollment policies in a sample of 45 of the largest school districts across the country. The study will look not only at specific open-enrollment policies but also at the rules and processes governing how attendance zones are created. 

Broadly speaking, open-enrollment policies enable public school students to transfer to a different school with space within or outside of the district in which they reside. 

Interdistrict open enrollment is enrollment in a school outside of the student’s district of residence. Here’s an example. Imagine that Tom is a fifth-grade student residentially assigned to a school in the Rincon Unified School District. Tom lives in a state with interdistrict open enrollment, so he has the option of transferring to a school in the neighboring Mill Valley School District.       

Intradistrict open enrollment is enrollment in a school inside of a student’s district of residence but outside of the student’s attendance zone (i.e., not the school the student was assigned to). In this case, Tom would have the option of transferring to a different school within the Rincon Unified School District. 

Many states set policies for interdistrict and intradistrict open enrollment. Some states establish policies but leave varying levels of flexibility to district-specific policies. Others explicitly grant authority over open-enrollment to district-specific policies.

According to a June 2023 study by the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank that supports ESAs, vouchers, and expanded open-enrollment policies, 16 states have laws that require districts to accept out-of-district students when space is available. 

This year, several states have considered legislation changing open-enrollment policies in their public school systems, including North Dakota, Montana, South Carolina, Texas, and Idaho. Lawmakers in Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, and West Virginia passed laws requiring districts to establish open enrollment policies:

  • Idaho: Senate Bill 1125 prohibits schools from rejecting students based on their residential address, so long as the school has space and the student has a record of good behavior and attendance. 
  • Montana: House Bill 203 allows students to transfer to a different district than the one to which they’re assigned and prohibits districts from charging parents tuition. 
  • North Dakota: House Bill 1376 allows public school students to transfer to any school within the state, so long as space is available. 
  • West Virginia: House Bill 2596 prohibits county school boards from denying out-of-district transfer requests based on residential address and requires boards to establish and publicize an open-enrollment policy for out-of-district students. 

Republicans sponsored three of the four bills (a committee sponsored Idaho’s SB 1125). However, with the exception of North Dakota, a majority of Democrats voted to pass the bills.  

Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, and West Virginia are Republican trifectas, meaning Republicans control the state legislature and the governor’s office. 

In anticipation of the release of our upcoming study, here’s a sneak peek at what we’ve found in the 45 districts researched:

Interdistrict open enrollment

  • 10 (22%) of the districts have generally available interdistrict open enrollment
  • 31 (69%) of the districts have interdistrict open enrollment only under very specific conditions or restrictions
  • 4 (9%) of the districts do not allow for interdistrict open enrollment or only allow it with student-specific exceptions

Intradistrict open enrollment (out-of-attendance zone transfers)

  • 10 (22%) of the districts researched so far have generally available intradistrict open enrollment
  • 35 (78%) of the districts researched so far have intradistrict open enrollment only under specific conditions ranging from quite rare or restricted to fairly common or minor.

The conditions specified for conditional open-enrollment policies include:

  • Tuition
  • Specific agreements made between the districts
  • School or district performance
  • Student performance, behavior, and attendance record
  • Employment of parent by district
  • Residence change or family relocation
  • Medical or emotional reasons or hardship
  • Property ownership within the district
  • Restraining order situation
  • Distance/Travel time

We’ll be back in a future edition with a detailed look at the complete study, so stay tuned for that!  

Extracurricular: education news from around the web

This section contains links to recent education-related articles from around the internet. If you know of a story we should be reading, reply to this email to share it with us! 

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. 

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

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 appear in our sample ballot.
In the 2022 election cycle, 6,087 candidates completed the survey.