Ohio school boards seeing an increase in candidates ahead of election

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COLUMBUS, Ind. (WANE) — It’s a position you see on the ballot every two years, but this year more than ever people are tossing their hats into the ring for one special seat this election – school board.

“We have seen 18-year-olds to an octogenarian run and serve on school board,” said Rick Lewis, Executive Director and CEO of Ohio School Board Association. “It really is a cross representation of Ohio on age, education levels and work backgrounds.”

The Ohio School Board Association (OSBA) is a nonprofit organization that represents 711 school boards in the state giving boards resources and support. Every two years residents vote for members of their local school board in Ohio.

According to the association, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people looking to snag a school board seat. In 2017 Ohio had 1,749 candidates. This year the number has increased to 2,678, a 50% increase from the number of candidates that ran four years ago. In that same time period, 1,300 have been new candidates.

“This increase in the number of candidates is impressive,” Lewis said. “I think this is because of two reasons. Over the last four years, OSBA has put out a PSA campaign to get more grassroots interests in becoming school board members. Beyond that, I think we have to recognize the issues of the day whether that’s masks, vaccinations, critical race theory or transgender athletics have taken front and center stage in many school districts.”

One of those candidates is Melanie Forrer who is a write-in candidate for the Wayne Trace School Board. Forrer is one of four candidates vying for three seats and says running was an easy decision.

“I just feel like it’s my turn to give back to the community,” Forrer said. “They’ve given me so much support as my years as a student, as a band member, as an athlete and even as a coach when I coached at Wayne Trace and I want to help in any way I can.”

Forrer says that her main focus is on the mental health of students and staff members. With recent suicides in the community she’s hoping as a school board member the district would be able to get a mental health professional that would visit all the schools.

“It’s more prevalent than we ever thought it was,” Forrer said. “One thing I love about the community is when someone hurting the community rallies together. That’s why I want to give back.”

In recent years some school boards across Ohio and the U.S. have seen meetings end in fights with tempers flaring and local law enforcement asked to step in. Lewis says there have been cases where school board members have been threatened and meetings have gone violent, however each meeting at each school district is different.

“We are seeing eight candidates running for two spots,” Lewis said. “We are seeing some school districts where candidates are running unopposed while others will have open seats and no one running. It varies from the school district.”

Not only are there more candidates running for school boards in Ohio, they are also spending more on their campaigns. It’s difficult to find out exactly how much more but a lot of it is tied to political parties something Lewis is sad to see.

“We are seeing this year more than ever candidates run using party affiliation as a reason to vote for them,” Lewis said. “These are nonpartisan elections. Really I don’t believe there is any room for politics in education. It’s too important. The stakes are too high.”

Voting for the Ohio school board takes place Nov. 2 between 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

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