COVID issues, other hot topics mean crowded ballots for some Butler County school boards

Last month a group gathered to rally against mandatory masks in front of the Lakota Schools Board of Education office in Liberty Twp. Coronavirus pandemic-related issues such as mask policies, quarantine procedures and vaccinations have some area school districts seeing more candidates for open school board seats that will be decided by the Nov. 2 elections.   NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
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Last month a group gathered to rally against mandatory masks in front of the Lakota Schools Board of Education office in Liberty Twp. Coronavirus pandemic-related issues such as mask policies, quarantine procedures and vaccinations have some area school districts seeing more candidates for open school board seats that will be decided by the Nov. 2 elections. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Rippling issues from a global pandemic may be impacting some area school board races as some districts are seeing jumps in the number of candidates seeking seats on the governing boards.

As the hot button of issues of student masking, quarantines and vaccinations continue, state school board officials said a surge in more contentious local board elections would not be unexpected.

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Lakota Schools, the most populous district in Butler County with 16,800 students, may have nine candidates on the November ballot, which would more than double the four candidates seeking election in 2019.

But crowded local school board races aren’t limited this fall to only large school districts.

The smaller Edgewood Schools may also have nine candidates on the November 2 ballot. In 2019 Edgewood’s school board race saw only two candidates seeking two open seats.

The Butler County Board of Elections website was unavailable for public viewing due to technical issues for a time Thursday, but according to candidate data compiled earlier, there are more office seekers for local school boards than two years ago.

It’s not surprising said Rick Lewis, executive director and CEO of the Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA), which represents almost all of the state’s 613 publicly elected school boards.

Lewis said the OSBA will soon compile their own candidate counts across the state but early, anecdotal discussions from around the state are indicating a possible jump in candidates but also more first-time candidates.

“We are seeing a very stimulated interest in new board candidates. There appears to be a significant number,” he said.

In general, local school board races in non-pandemic years can be relatively low interest elections compared to more high-profile, local public offices.

But the five-member school boards wield the unique governing power to determine much of what is taught in local public schools as well as hire and fire superintendents and school district treasurers. The boards decide on the spending of millions of dollars of local taxpayers’ money that funds district operations serving in thousands of students and their families.

The stakes are even higher this year, said Lewis, with more boards across Ohio hearing from residents – pro and con – on issues reflected nationally such as the relative merits of Critical Race Theory (CRT) instruction or other CRT-themes being taught by some local schools.

“When you throw in the other high interest topics like Critical Race Theory and some of the debates that are occurring about trans-gender athletes,” more interest in local school board races is generated, he said.

“And then you have members of the public who, for whatever reason, were dissatisfied with the decisions of their board and thinking they could have made better decisions,” said Lewis.

Staff writer Michael D. Pitman contributed to this story