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LEWIS CENTER, Ohio — In two weeks, Ohio voters will head to the polls to cast their ballots. This time around, many will have a greater slate of school board candidates to choose from as the number of candidates running has increased a great deal compared to past years.
What You Need To Know
In 2019, there were 807 new candidates vying for school board seats compared to 1,351 this year
In 2017, there was a total of 1,749 new and incumbent candidates combined
The Ohio Education Association has at least 100 of its members or those in member households are running
In one district, while there are a number of educators running, parents like Jennifer Feucht and Felicia Kastle are on the ballot for the Olentangy Local Schools Board of Education.
Feucht said it's scary running for the first time, but she's glad she stepped up. Challenges during the pandemic with her 11-year-old’s school assignments sparked her candidacy.
“I took all these concerns to leadership, and they were very receptive, but it felt like it just stopped there. There wasn't a ‘What's next?’” Feucht said.
So, she decided to throw her hat in the ring.
“Like, if I don't step forward who will?” said Feucht. “I didn't want to sit on the sidelines audience that someone might not step forward that has, students first as their main priority.”
For Kastle, she said mental health and screen time caught her attention a few years ago. That's when she knew she wanted to run, but then challenges with classroom curriculum hit center stage.
“When parents started bringing up some of those concerns, those were some red flags for me, but it wasn't just Critical Race Theory. I think it goes deeper than that,” Kastle said. “I think what fuels me more is not seeing accountability being taken care of and we’re not seeing teachers being held accountable or administration held accountable.”
Since Feucht and Kastle have been campaigning, they've been focused on hearing parents' concerns about classroom material, finding a sustainable funding solution as it relates to growth in the district and bridging the communication gap between parents, students and teachers.
With just two seats open and multiple candidates, both hope they can get enough votes to create change.
As they campaign, the Ohio School Boards Association has been running its own campaign over the last few years to get more people to run for school board seats across the state. In some places across the state, there is double the number of candidates running for available seats.
While OSBA believes it's working, officials said there's a number of people, in general, running on polarizing issues.
“I'd say having more people engaged in the process, running for school board... It's a good thing,” said Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association. “I think it's good for democracy for voters to have choices.”
But DiMauro does have concerns.
“What's the issue is the fact that there are lots of people running for school boards, that are being supported and driven by national, ideological groups, pushing radical agendas that really aren't about setting students up for success in our local, public schools; but instead pushing a narrative that is all about wedge issues and culture war issues,” DiMauro said.
That's issues like mask mandates, vaccine requirements and those surrounding race. For DiMauro, the challenge then becomes trust.
“Sometimes you see that fundamental distrust introduced to a school board and then just, you know, radical decisions like summarily, you know, firing a superintendent and dismantling curriculum and upending initiatives that the district has been working on for a long time,” he said.
He added that for those candidates who are solely focused on one issue, he said he’s worried “that they are going lose sight of the fundamental responsibilities of school board members to think about ‘okay what do we need to do in terms of a long-range facilities plan? What do we need to do to make sure we have the best person leading the district in the role of superintendent?’”
While DiMauro believes there should be disagreement on school boards and that no one should just follow blindly, he said it's important to not paint a broad stroke when it comes to the polarizing issues many districts are grappling with this year, because not every school district has the same issues.
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