More trustee seats are contested this election cycle than last

Participation in local school board elections is up from the last election cycle, amid a third school year rocked by debates over coronavirus protocols and surging outcry from conservative parents and interest groups over perceived leftist teachings.

Arguments about critical race theory, school mask mandates and deciding which learning model schools should use during the pandemic have catapulted normally quiet board meetings into situations roiled by protests, police responses and recall efforts over the course of sitting trustees’ terms. The contentious position volunteer trustees have been put in could deter some from wanting the job, raising the question: Will more people run for office than usual in the 2021 Nov. 2 election?

The answer, when compared with 2019 numbers, is yes.

Only 29.7% of candidates will face an opponent this fall, but that’s a noticeable uptick from 22.6% two years ago. And 48 of Idaho’s 115 districts will hold contested elections, up from 40 in 2019.

Despite increased participation, most trustee elections will be one-horse races, as has been the norm in Idaho. In typical years, many races have only one candidate, and districts sometimes struggle to fill all their board seats.

Of the 263 expiring school board terms across the state this year, 185 seats will be filled without a vote, whether by incumbents or new faces. Those candidates will be declared winners by default, per state law.

That comes amid “unusually high” trustee turnover as “the demands of serving on a school board the last year and a half has been both time consuming and — at times — turbulent,” Idaho School Boards Association deputy director and government affairs liaison Quinn Perry explained by email.

This election will be the second time school board votes will be held alongside municipal elections during the fall, a change the 2018 Idaho Legislature made to increase voter turnout, according to past EdNews reporting.

How to vote

Constituents can vote early, absentee or in-person on Election Day, Nov. 2. Here are some key dates and times to keep in mind:

  • Early voting begins Oct. 18 in counties that offer it.
  • Absentee voters must apply for a ballot by Oct. 22.
  • Early voting ends Oct. 29.
  • Absentee ballots must be returned by the time polls close Nov. 2 at 8 p.m.
  • Polls open at 8 a.m. statewide Nov. 2.

Most districts elect trustees based on the geographic zone they live in. Constituents from their zone or region can cast votes to elect them.

Trustees serve four-year terms. Elections generally alternate between three- and two-seat elections on odd-numbered years.

EdNews compiled a list of all contested school board elections in the state. Find out whether your district has any contested elections by flipping through this table:

Visit your district’s website to find out which candidates live in your geographic zone.

Check back with EdNews in the coming weeks for comprehensive election coverage. EdNews data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report.

Editor's Note: This story's candidate catalogue has been updated with corrections and additions from school and county officials. 

Blake Jones

Blake Jones

Reporter Blake Jones covers the politics and policy of Idaho's K-12 public school system. He's a lifelong Idahoan, and holds degrees in Creative Writing and Political Economy from the College of Idaho. Follow Blake on Twitter @jonesblakej. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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