This fall’s Butler County school board races are already attracting candidates in some districts but not many in others.
While it’s still early — deadline for candidates to file is Aug. 9 — the board races could in some cases change current three-member majorities, impacting significant financial and policy decisions for years or at least through the board seats’ four-year term.
Governing, five-member school boards in Ohio control millions of taxpayer dollars and oversee key educational decisions affecting thousands of local students and their families.
Compared to other area districts, Hamilton City Schools is seeing a relative high number of interested candidates, with seven having taken out petitions to run for three open seats, according to the latest information from the Butler County Board of Elections.
The school board race in Fairfield City Schools is also drawing wide interest, with six candidates considering running for an unusual four open seats due to the death in December of member Jerome Kearns.
But the Lakota Local Schools’ board — which oversees Southwest Ohio’s largest suburban district and has three contested seats — only has four candidates, two of whom are incumbents.
At one time about a decade ago, Lakota had more than a dozen board candidates but has seen a sharp decrease in candidates in recent years.
Being a school board member is a publicly elected job where members are paid less than $100 per meeting but still responsible for committing to long hours and many meetings and other activities.
Candidates can withdraw their petitions or their certification filings at any time so the number of those running may change prior to the Nov. 7 election.
Middletown City Schools, whose board recently hired new superintendent Marlon Styles Jr., has two openings and only two candidates to date, with one an incumbent.
That’s concerning, said Middletown Board of Education President Chris Urso, because school boards play important roles in communities and the city’s schools are undergoing an historic transformation in terms of new facilities, new leadership and financial progress.
“Middletown City Schools are at a crossroads — and with updated facilities, innovative leadership and fiscal stability we have the potential to transform,” said Urso, whose seat is not up for election this fall.
“The strength of a community hinges on the strength of its schools. As November’s election approaches, I am hopeful that civically minded Middletownians will enter the fray and enable us to maintain momentum and capture opportunities for our young people,” Urso said.
The importance of local boards prompted long-time Fairfield resident Mark Wilhelm to take the first steps — requesting a ballot petition — to seek election.
Wilhelm, a Fairfield City Schools graduate and father of two students, said of the school system “even though it has its faults it’s still a good district.”
“But I don’t like keeping the status quo if you settle for what is already there … things can always improve,” Wilhelm said.
Steve Isgro, board president of Hamilton City Schools, was surprised by the number of people interested so far in trying to convince voters to elect them to the board.
“It’s good that so many people want to get involved because it’s a public service for the schools,” said Isgro, who is an incumbent.
BUTLER COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD RACES*
Fairfield City Schools: 6 candidates for four open seats
Hamilton City Schools: 7 candidates for three open seats
Lakota Local Schools: 4 candidates, two of whom are incumbents, for three open seats
Middletown City Schools: 2 candidates, with one an incumbent, for two open seats
*As of June 14. Deadline for candidates to file is Aug. 9
Source: Butler County Board of Elections