The governing board of Butler County’s largest school system took a substantial conservative shift this week as Lakota voters chose two newcomers whose joint campaign blasted current school leaders for leaning too far left politically.
And though the overall voter turnout was low across Butler County, Lakota and some school board races — such as an unusually crowded field of candidates in Edgewood Schools — were preceded by sharp divisions in local communities over how their schools should operate.
Other area school races drew relatively lower voter turnout, with some like Middletown, Hamilton boards seeing uncontested incumbents returned to power and Fairfield and New Miami’s boards also filled in unchallenged races.
First-time office seekers Isaac Adi and Darbi Boddy — along with Lakota school board incumbent Kelley Casper — saw voters pick them to sit on the five-member Lakota Board of Education for the next four years, according to unofficial tallies by the Butler County Board of Election.
While Casper’s campaign focused on keeping Ohio’s ninth largest school system squarely on the course pursued in recent years, the two challengers had sharply criticized Lakota Schools for adopting what they described as politically leftist changes, unwelcomed they contended, by most school parents.
The two ran together and one of their shared campaign mailers summed up their key positions by stating: “return to academic excellence;” “supports parental authority regarding medical freedom of choice;” “against Critical Race Theory” and “against progressive sex education.”
“Winning the election was a matter of listening to what the parents and community were saying, making that a campaign platform and letting those parents and the community know we were behind them, that this was our commitment,” Boddy told the Journal-News.
“What winning means is that it is now incumbent upon us to come through and honor those commitments. I take the position with a great deal of pride and a very humbling sense of responsibility,” she said.
Adi did not respond to messages Wednesday seeking his comments, but during a candidates’ forum last month the managing partner of Ohio-based KGN Petroleum, said Lakota should return to emphasizing traditional academic subjects rather than ideologically oriented instructions.
“There are many unnecessary things that are being brought into the schools that are not supposed to be there. There are many distractions. We need to focus on math, language arts, science and history and prepare them for life after school,” said Adi, who was the top vote earner.
Lakota officials contend Critical Race Theory is not taught in the 17,000-student district.
Casper, who is currently the Lakota Board President, told the Journal-News she appreciated those who returned her to office.
“I will continue to be a voice for all Lakota students, and families can count on me to keep the focus on finding ways to help each and every child achieve their best,” said Casper.
“Lakota is made up of many talented and diverse students, and they will always have representation while I am on the board. I trust that my fellow board members will put aside our differences and do what is best for our students and their success.”
When asked if she was referring to “differences” with Adi and Boddy, she replied: “Not really, just (in) general that we need to work for the success of all students and not a political agenda.”
Lakota school board veteran Lynda O’Connor, a consistent fiscal conservative and - on occasion - an advocate for some conservative ideals, welcomed Adi and Boddy’s election.
“I was happy to see the high level of engagement from our families and community members in this local election. I’m really looking forward to serving with Mr. Adi and Mrs. Boddy, and value the new perspectives they’ll bring to the table,” said O’Connor.
Differences over how Edgewood Schools are operating may have also helped propel two political newcomers there on to its school board.
Challengers Marc Messerschmitt and Andrew Pressler won seats in an unusually crowded candidates’ field with incumbent Gary Gabbard also returning to the board.
Recent months had seen some in the school district community divided over school building realignment of grades impacting transportation and other aspects of the 3,500-student district.
And the Edgewood board recently began preliminary discussions on the possibility of seeking a new operating tax levy sometime in the next few years to offset a projected budget shortfall estimated to start in 2023.
District officials, said Pressler, need to be more transparent on major decisions impacting school families.
“My first priority is to bring the district and community together through honesty and transparency. Over the last year, decisions have been made by the current board members that I hope to open back up for discussion,” he said.
Messerschmitt said: “My priorities straight forward. I plan to work on reuniting the division between many in the community and the school.”