School board races have never drawn much attention in Wichita or hardly anywhere else in America. Up until this year, the challenge has been getting candidates to run for these seats, which in Kansas are basically volunteer work, since school board positions are the only elected offices in the state where the winners serve without pay..
Not since the 60s, when the controversy was over integrating schools, has there been more interest in school board elections, and I’d willing to say, not since then has there been more at stake.
This year all, around the country, fueled by conservative groups opposing COVID-19 mask mandates, gender-neutral bathrooms and teachings on race in schools, candidates have entered school board races with the goal of swaying the boards power balance towards their positions.
While school board elections in Kansas are non-partisan, which means candidates run without declaring their political affiliation, this year’s elections have become obviously partisan. That became evident with the USD 259 elections when the Sedgwick County Republican Party purchased billboards supporting a slate of candidates asking the community to“Vote 4 Change”on the board. While that may have been the first public acknowledge of the role partisan politics would have in this year’s election, it’s obvious the Republican’s agenda was set much earlier when they sought out and secured conservative candidates to oppose each of the existing board members up for reelection.
While all of the Reapublican endorsed candidates are political newcomers, several of them have strong Republican Party ties, with a couple serving as Republican Precinct members.
ln response, a couple of groups have stepped up to support the incumbents. Former Democratic Congressional candidate James Thompson has endorsed a candidate slate of mostly incumbents, and put his political capital and organization behind this effort, although it’s not clear that he’s invested much, if any, money in this effort.
Another group, the Bluestem Coalition, did invest in a campaign to support all of the incumbents. While it’s not clear exactly who the Bluestem Coalition is, the “Blue” in their name tends to indicate their associate as a more Democratic, than “Red” Republican organization.
What’s at Stake
With a near minority majority of Black, Brown, Yellow and Red students in USD259 policies that support their learning are at stake.
Before 2017, almost to the 1960s, Wichita’s Black community felt secure in knowing thTurner was appointed to fill a vacant seat on the board, there wasn’t a Black member of the board, but the community could rest comfortably with Supt. Alicia Thompson, a Black woman, leading the district..
However, if this coalition wins and takes control of the 7-member board, our community should be concerned about Thompson’s job and thus the board’s sincere interest in success of our students.
Despite challenges brought on by the pandemic, Thompson has been progressive about implementing programs to help advance the learning and achievement of African-American and other minority students. She hired a diversity and inclusion officer William Polite who’s interest has been about more than the noble cause of increasing the diversity of the district’s team. He has been aggressively working to implement policies and procedures, as well as programs, designed to bolster the success of the district’s minority students. I’ve particularly impressed with his efforts to bolster the success and grd graduation rates of Black and Brown males, two groups that have consistently been at the bottom of the district’s achievement scale.
Vote citywide not by district
Candidates for the USD 259 school board run and qualify by district, but in the general election everyone across the city votes for all of the candidates. That gives a large amount of power to the “interest” group that shows up to impact not just the representative selected to represent their district. Any group voting in large numbers can impact the entire composition of the board. With four of the seven seats on the board up for election, the election of a conservative slate of candidates, could change the entire direction of the district. The good news is the same holds true for our community. We can equally show up in great numbers and impact the results of this election
If we don’t, we’ll lose and so will our children.
I can’t repeat enough how much is at stake with this year’s school board election. If you have children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews, know teachers or employees of the district, you MUST show up and vote Nov. 2, and get others to do the same.