Over the past week, at least four school districts canceled November school board elections due to a lack of opposing candidates, including one district that has been a battleground between conservative and pro-teacher candidates.
The St. Vrain Valley district in Boulder County, with 32,639 students, had four board seats up for election, with three incumbents running and one open seat, reports the Longmont Times-Call. Uncontested races aren't new to the St. Vrain district; it also canceled elections in 2017, 2015 and 2013 also due to a lack of opponents.
The same cannot be said for the Thompson School District in Loveland. It was one of the three hottest school board races in the state in 2015, along with Jefferson County (which recalled three conservative board members that year) and Douglas County (which flipped from a conservative majority to a pro-teacher majority in 2017).
In 2015, the fight in Thompson was between conservative candidates, incumbents and candidates backed by the teachers union, which was embroiled in a lawsuit with the school board over the 2015-16 contract and efforts by conservative members to eliminate the union's ability to negotiate on behalf of teachers. Only one of the three seats in the Thompson district was contested in 2017, albeit by a write-in candidate.
This year, the heat is off entirely. Four seats on the Thompson board were up for election in November. Two seats were open; the other two are held by Marc Seter (appointed in 2017 to fill an unexpired term) and Pam Howard, who was part of that 2015 turnover. None of the four candidates had opponents, so the board voted Tuesday to cancel the election and declare the new board members elected by acclamation. The Loveland Reporter Herald said the district will save $100,000 by canceling the election.
The school boards of the Westminster and Logan Valley RE-1 districts also voted to cancel their November elections due to a lack of opposing candidates.
Westminster has 19,277 students; Logan has 2,284.
The Logan Valley RE-1 board voted Tuesday to cancel its November election and elect its new members, though it had only enough candidates to fill three of the four open seats. The Sterling Journal-Advocate reported Wednesday that the board will open applications for the fourth seat after the Nov. 18 swearing-in of the other three candidates.
Chalkbeat reported Wednesday that canceling the election in Westminster, which has three candidates for its three seats, will save the district $35,000. Two of the three candidates are incumbents.
The lack of opponents comes as conservative groups have encouraged people to run for school board seats. In 2019, the General Assembly revised the state's sex education curriculum, driving some of that interest. Douglas and Jefferson counties have contested school board seats, but not as many conservatives are running as some would like.
Jon Caldara of the Independent Institute said the problem lies is what happens to conservatives when they run for school board seats . "Conservatives have tried to get good people to run for office," Caldara said, but they have "had their lives turned upside down, their kids threatened or made fun of, or property vandalized. It's no wonder why good conservatives don't want to run for office. Congrats, progressives! You've silenced the field!"
It's important to have conservatives on school boards, he said, "but it's easier to convince a union teacher or the husband of one to run for the school board than for someone to run out of altruism. It's a huge challenge to convince people to turn their lives upside down based on principle."
Howard, of the Thompson board, has a different view. One reason more people don't run for her district school board is because that board "is progressing in a direction that the community feels is in line with their goals for students. Therefore, there is not a lot of support to change that trajectory," she said.
She noted the voters' decision to approve a board-backed mill-levy override and a bond measure in the 2018 election to provide substantial pay increases for teachers and more funding for curriculum, buildings and technology.
"Our board has worked diligently the past four years to reach out and listen to the public, students and families to ensure we are focused on providing the best education for each child," Howard said.