And, again, the stalking horses lost.
As with last year in the Hamburg Central School District, board candidates harboring right-wing political agendas largely failed in their attempts to win seats in Tuesday’s elections. Voters understood the issues and the threats, opting for candidates already in office or endorsed by teachers unions.
That’s not always the best approach, but it’s a solid one at a time when, here and around the country, far-right candidates are seeking to worm their way into public life by winning election to school boards. Their goals include book-banning and, as one candidate wrote last year, a commitment to “massive upheaval.” The hard work of educating children ranked somewhere lower on that political agenda.
People are also reading…
With multimillion-dollar budgets, high standards imposed by state government and high expectations of parents, school districts are no place to play political games. That’s true at any time, but especially in a time of national division. Schools – including their boards – should be refuges from the craziness that plays out elsewhere.
So, it’s good news that voters continue to see that masquerade for what it is. They also understood the risks – indeed, the pointlessness – of rejecting proposed school budgets, which were approved in all districts across Erie and Niagara counties.
Not so long ago, it was the budgets that commanded the most attention when school district voters went to the polls. But times have changed and, now, the overarching issue is whether school boards will be overrun by ideologues who are perpetually – sometimes performatively – angry about something: masking policies or library books or “critical race theory” or even students who stick up for gender equality. For those candidates, it’s about infiltrating school boards and imposing their radicalism on everyone else.
One of the early leaders of that effort acknowledged as in 2021, as The New York Times reported last year. Conservative activist Christopher Rufo was instrumental in creating a backlash against both critical race theory and the Disney Corp. for its objections to Florida’s “don’t say gay” law. His method, as he acknowledged in 2021, is misdirection, if not deceit: “The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think ‘critical race theory,’ ” he wrote on Twitter.
Here, at least, voters have held the line against turning classrooms into petri dishes of discontent. Last year, for example, Hamburg voters turned away a slate of far right candidates whose strategy, according to a Facebook post, included “massive civil disobedience and continuing to be loud, speak up, take over board of education seats this spring, and create massive upheaval.” That’s an agenda of chaos, not education.
This year, voters in West Seneca turned away a candidate who had shared antisemitic and anti-gay posts on her Truth Social account. In Lancaster, they rejected a slate of candidates whose agenda included the books in the school library as well as concerns about a lack of communication. Their approach on books was less confrontational than some in other places, but what did that have to do with the fundamental issues of educating students?
In both cases, and in others, voters favored candidates with experience and those backed by teachers unions. That is to say, they opted for candidates who have shown an actual interest in educating students or at least could be fairly presumed to have that interest.
But if Tuesday’s results were heartening, the political landscape offers school district voters no reason to relax. This is shaping up as a long-term fight, one that will require the vigilance of voters for years to come.
In the meantime, it’s long past time for New York to abolish the anachronistic policy of requiring a public vote on school district budgets. It doesn’t happen in other taxing entities, so why schools? In a representative democracy, we elect people to do that work then judge their performance on election day. Why hold that cudgel over schools and the students inside? More harm than good is likely to result.
• • •
What’s your opinion? Send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters should be a maximum of 300 words and must convey an opinion. The column does not print poetry, announcements of community events or thank you letters. A writer or household may appear only once every 30 days. All letters are subject to fact-checking and editing.