Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #86

A note to readers: Hall Pass will take a break next week in anticipation of Thanksgiving. We’ll return to your inboxes on Nov. 29. Thanks for reading, and enjoy the holiday!   

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 requiring armed guards in schools 
  • In your district: The science of reading
  • Share candidate endorsements with us!  
  • School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
  • Extracurricular: education news from around the web
  • Candidate Connection survey

Reply to this email to share reactions or story ideas!

On the issues: The debate over mandating and funding armed guards in schools

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.

On Oct. 24, the Pennsylvania Senate’s Education Committee voted 6-4 in favor of SB 907, which would require all schools to post security guards during regular school hours.

State Sen. Mike Regan (R) writes that armed security should be a top spending priority for schools. Regan says the state’s 2023-2024 budget makes more funding available for school safety programs to reduce the financial burden on districts. 

The Pittsburgh Tribune Review editorial board writes that most school districts can’t afford security guards. The editorial board says the requirement could remove funding from educational priorities and worsen staff retention problems. 

Armed school security a must for protecting students (opinion) | Mike Regan, Reading Eagle

“[T]he hiring of trained and vetted armed officers should be every school’s first step when implementing security measures. But many have not. As we review the governor’s proposed 2023-2024 budget, I am cognizant that funding is always an issue for our schools, especially when another mandate is proposed in Harrisburg. Thanks to the School Safety and Security Grant Program, money has been available to schools to hire armed officers and to harden points of entry. And I remain committed to ensuring the continuation of that funding source.  Every year since the program’s creation, my top budgetary ask has been the maintenance and increase of that line item, which began at $60 million. Last year’s budget saw a record $95 million for physical school safety and another $95 million for school-based mental health services, also crucial in addressing the safety of students.”

Editorial: Should Pennsylvania require schools to have armed security? | The Editorial Board, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

“The real issue is the logistics. Not every district has that kind of room in the budget. In fact, few do, making this yet another unfunded state mandate. It’s easy to demand action when you aren’t paying the bill. Making this a requirement could force districts to pull the money from elsewhere, possibly affecting education. Then there is the fact schools already are having trouble finding people for other jobs like substitutes and bus drivers. For that matter, so are police departments and prisons, other government agencies that would pull from the same pool. … No solution will be perfect, and we should never let striving for perfection stand in the way of just doing better. But it is important to consider whether all 500 Pennsylvania school districts could provide what would be required — especially as more police departments are closing for lack of funds and personnel.”

In your district: The science of reading  

School districts face diverse issues and challenges. We want to hear what’s happening in your school district. Please complete the very brief survey below—anonymously, if you prefer—and we may share your response with fellow subscribers in an upcoming newsletter.

Last month, we ran a four-part series on the debate over the science of reading: Pt. 1, pt. 2, pt. 3, and pt. 4. While the science of reading doesn’t have a single definition, it broadly refers to the research into how students learn to read and the different instructional approaches based on those findings. 

What is the best way to teach children how to read? 

Click here to respond!

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.

Nov. 7 Battleground election results (continued…)

Last week, we brought you an early update on our biggest battleground elections—Central Bucks School District, in Pennsylvania, Anoka-Hennepin School District, in Minnesota, Loudoun County Public Schools, in Virginia, and Wichita Public Schools, in Kansas.

In the coming months, we’ll publish our in-depth analyses of endorsements in the seven states where we covered all school board elections on Nov. 7. You can follow along here.  

Here’s a quick update on what happened in some of our other battleground districts. 

Woodland Park School District, Colorado

Incumbent Mick Bates, incumbent Cassie Kimbrell, and Keegan Barkley won election to the Woodland Park School District RE-2 school board in Teller County, Colorado. The district had approximately 1,804 students during the 2021-2022 school year.

Incumbents Mick Bates, Dave Illingworth II, and Cassie Kimbrell ran as a slate. Local Republican elected officials endorsed all three incumbents. The slate’s priorities included: academic achievement, parental involvement, teacher wages and benefits, history and civics, school choice, education in trades, and protecting kids. 

Challengers Seth Bryant, Keegan Barkley, and Mike Knott also ran as a slate. The slate’s campaign priorities included: quality education, safe schools, removing personal political agendas, and removing untested educational standards.

According to unofficial results, the races were narrowly decided: 

  • District A: Bates defeated Bryant 50.3% to 49.7%. 
  • District C: Illingworth defeated Barkley 51.21% to 48.8%. 
  • District D: Kimbrill defeated Knott 50.4% to 49.6%. 

The American Birthright social studies standard was an issue in the race. According to the Civics Alliance, the coalition that created the standard, the American Birthright standard “teaches students to identify the ideals, institutions, and individual examples of human liberty, individualism, religious freedom, and republican self-government.” Earlier this year, the board voted to adopt the curriculum—a decision the challengers campaigned against. 

Douglas County School District, Colorado

Incumbent Susan Meek, Brad Geiger, and Valerie Thompson won election to three seats on the Douglas County School Board. Heading into the election, the board had a 5-2 conservative majority. Four members of the conservative majority were elected as part of a slate in November 2021.

As a result of the election, the board will have a 4-3 conservative majority. According to NBC’s Tyler Kingkade, “a moderate slate of three school board candidates will defeat their right-wing opponents, though the seven-member board will remain in conservative control.”

The Douglas County School District has approximately 63,000 students.

Mentor Exempted Village School District, Ohio

Rose Ioppolo and Lauren Marchaza defeated Christine Henninger, Gil Martello, and Lyndsie Wall in the general election for two at-large seats. 

The 1776 Project PAC, which describes itself as “committed to abolishing critical race theory and ‘The 1619 Project’ from the public school curriculum,” endorsed Ioppolo and Martello. Patriots PAC, Vote Mama PAC, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers endorsed Marchaza and Wall.

Issues in the race included curriculum content, prohibiting certain books in school libraries, and policies relating to transgender students. According to News 5 Cleveland, objections to certain books in school libraries had been part of an “ongoing debate over what belongs on school library shelves, which has dominated public comment periods at school board meetings and prompted concerned citizens to seek elected office.”

Mentor Exempted is the 27th largest district in Ohio, with a student population of 7,429. 

Pennridge School District, Pennsylvania

Voters elected five Democratic candidates to five of nine seats on the Pennridge School District school board. The Pennridge School District is located in Bucks County in the northern suburbs of Philadelphia. 

The results give Democrats a 5-4 majority on the board. Heading into the election, the board had an 8-1 Republican majority. Of the five seats up for election, Republicans held four, and Democrats held one.

The five Democratic candidates—incumbent Ron Wurz, Chris Kaufman, Bradley Merkl-Gump, Leah Foster Rash, and Carolyn Sciarrino—ran as the Pennridge Community Alliance slate of candidates and campaigned against the school board’s neutrality and curriculum policies. The five Republican candidates—incumbent Jonathan Russell, Joshua Hogan, Bob Sellers, Barbara Vees, and Jim York—ran as the Protect Pennridge 2023 slate.

According to The New York Times’ Diana Goldstein, “The previous Republican majority had asked teachers to consult a social studies curriculum created by Hillsdale College, a conservative, Christian institution. The board also restricted access to library books with L.G.B.T.Q. themes and banned transgender students from using bathrooms or playing on sports teams that correspond to their gender identity.”

Pennsylvania is one of four states—along with Alabama, Connecticut, and Louisiana—where school board candidates run in partisan elections (in five other states, the law allows for both partisan and nonpartisan elections). 

Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District, Minnesota

Ten candidates ran in the nonpartisan general election for four of the seven at-large seats. Voters re-elected three incumbents—Sachin Isaacs, Cory Johnson, and Jackie Magnuson—and elected Anna Williams to the four seats.

The district, with 29,245 students, is the fourth largest in Minnesota.

Isaacs, Johnson, Magnuson, and Williams received endorsements from the Dakota County United Educators (Local 2006), Education Minnesota, OutFront Minnesota Action, and the Minnesota State Council of the Service Employees International Union.

The Dakota County chapter of Moms for Liberty, the Minnesota Parents Alliance, and the American Indian Coalition endorsed Kim Bauer, Melissa Field, Teressa Schlueter, and Lori Urkiel.

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

Today, we’re looking at surveys from two candidates who ran in the general election for Douglas County School District Board of Directors District A, in Colorado, on Nov. 7. Incumbent Susan Meek defeated challenger Andy Jones 53% to 46%. 

Meek was first elected in 2019. 

Here’s how Meek answered the question, “What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?

“The majority of my professional career has been focused the public education, which included 6 years in the Douglas County School District where I started with the Douglas County Education Foundation. In that role, I was tasked to create several new programs, many of which still exist today, such as The Apple Awards and the Girls and Women in Sports Luncheon. I also partnered with business, the work force agency, and higher ed on several projects resulting in career training for hundreds of students and unemployed adults. 

I have spent that past 10 years supporting public education at the state level, where I work with school districts and school boards across Colorado. My focus has primarily been on school finance, education policy, and governance trainings.

I’ve always prioritized volunteerism my entire adult life. When my oldest daughter started Kindergarten, I volunteered with the Parent/Teacher Organization and the School Accountability Committee. I’ve served as Chair of the SAC at both the elementary and high school. So moving into the Board Director role was a natural evolution of my volunteerism and engagement with our schools.”

Click here to read the rest of Meek’s answers. 

Here’s how Jones answered the question, “What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?

“Safety, employment stability and real parent engagement would be my top three, but with safety, my initial focus would be on learning more from our dedicated security staff and what they would recommend for focusing our efforts.  

You see, I speak the language of safety and security, and our community is seeking a higher sense of urgency when it comes to addressing our most critical safety needs. I certainly have ideas from 30 years of military experience, plus over 26 years of airline safety experience, but I will take the hours, weeks and months necessary to learn more about our districts strengths and weaknesses and help create the positive culture and climate necessary for a safe and caring environment.”

Click here to read the rest of Jones’ answers. 

We created Candidate Connection to help candidates tell voters about their campaigns, their issues, and so much more. In the 2022 election cycle, 6,087 candidates completed the survey. 

If you’re a school board candidate or incumbent running in 2024, click here to take the survey.