June 24, 2022

Proposal would add a political party to the names of school board candidates

Candidates for the school board would have a political party named after them if a bill being discussed at the Indiana House becomes law.

There would still be no primary under the proposal, but Republican JD Prescott of Union City’s bill would allow candidates to register as Republicans or Democrats. Other parties or candidates who simply did not want to register a party would be listed as independents.

Prescott says listing a party affiliation would give voters more information about a low-key race. He says he has heard several voters complaining about not knowing who or what they are voting for.

Witnesses who testified at a House committee hearing last week were united against the bill. Spencer-Owen County board member Derek Morgan said the race being non-partisan was part of the reason he ran. He says the injection of politics would distract members from the students and interfere with their ability to represent the whole community.

Prescott says the policy is already closely tied to schools. Indiana School Boards Association executive director Terry Spradlin says the bill would turn politicization from an occasional issue to the norm. He says the bill would discourage many applicants from running and disqualify others who hold federal jobs, such as Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center employees. And he warns that tying school board members to political parties could turn school administrators into jobs of patronage.

Three states make school boards a partisan office. Four others allow individual school districts to make that decision.

The commission has until Tuesday to vote on the bill.

A separate committee unanimously approved a stand-alone bill requiring school boards to allow public comment at meetings. Boards of directors could still hold their meetings online, limit speakers to three minutes or exclude speakers who become disruptive. The House will vote on the bill next week.