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Some hard fought contests ahead

It’s July and already I’m hearing a lot about November elections–and, yes, November 2023. Several candidates for school board and city council positions are moving beyond the “should I or shouldn’t I” question to the “what do I do next” one.

Yes, they know filing doesn’t start until Aug. 28, but candidates are already trying to size up the field and figure the “win number” that they’ll need to reach this November.

We got a preview of what’s to come during Ada County races for library trustee last March. Races for Meridian Library Board drew 7,098 votes in 2019 and only 2,035 in 2021. This year the Concerned Citizens of Meridian put up a candidate who’d signed the petition to disband the entire library for its failure to ban more books. The number of voters shot up to 12,400–and those in favor of banning books lost.

The outcome in 2021 was different for the Nampa School Board. The division then was between those who opposed mask mandates and school “indoctrination” in issues like critical race theory and those concerned with traditional education questions like student achievement and go-on rates.

All three of those opposing the previous board’s actions won–Jeff Kirkman, Tracey Pearson, and Brook Taylor–by nearly 2:1 with less than 20% of voters taking part.

Board members have since been widely criticized. They pay Krissy Clerk, the board clerk, more than teachers receive. They banned 23 books without following written board policy. And, in June, they passed a policy prohibiting “gender identity”, “transgender identity”, or “gender expression” to be discussed in Nampa schools.

All of that seems minor compared with the difficulties caused by trustee elections in northern Idaho. Accreditation of North Idaho College, which serves 6,000 students in the Coeur d’Alene area, has been endangered by a dysfunctional board and “its current environment of distrust, poor communication, conspiracy, and placing other priorities above the best interest of the institution.” It has been granted one year to fix things.

And in Priest River, the West Bonner School Board has hired Brandon Durst, an education consultant for the Idaho Freedom Foundation, as district superintendent. Wayne Hoffman, founder of IFF, has been quoted as saying,“If I could wave a magic wand, I would cut the budgets for the education system and allow the money to remain in the economy in the pockets of parents so that they could then make a selection without having to have any role from government.”(Note that rich families would get expensive education and poor families, little or none.)

The state may or may not approve Durst’s hiring–he lacks the four years experience in education that Idaho law requires for superintendents–but West Bonner voters are taking action now. Recall elections for two board members will be on August ballots in the district.

As voters, we can no longer assume that candidates share our view of the role of school or city governing bodies. On the contrary, we can assume groups who want to change our democratic institutions will support–and amply–fund candidates in race after race.

If we want to keep our institutions strong and focused on the best interests of the public, we need to have active, purposeful candidates–and scores of volunteers to help them get their message out.

And the most concerned candidates will not wait until September to take action. Please welcome visits, phone calls and literature from them and their teams.

Get an idea of the answers you want to hear and then ask the questions.

And, if possible, join a candidate team and help. Volunteers tend to be scarce in Canyon County.

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