BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Longtime school board superintendents agree: this election cycle is unlike any other.
“I can definitely say this one is potentially a lot more contentious,” said Pam Baugher, superintendent of the Bakersfield City School District.
Locally and across the country, school boards have become the front lines of battles over important social issues. Earth can be polarized; Panama-Buena Vista Union School District Board President Keith Wolaridge says school boards are completely divided.
“Good people – good hearts – are leaving, because of the partisanship and politicization of our local school boards,” Wolaridge said.
Political newcomers have flooded the trustee races in some of Kern’s highest-profile school districts. Many of these candidates are running on conservative platforms. Most of them talk about social issues such as race, gender and sexuality in the classroom.
Conservative leadership encouraged these campaigns from the top, through programs like the California GOP Parent Revolt program. In its own words, Parent Revolt is designed to “recruit and support strong Republican candidates to run for local education offices.”
The California Democratic Party has endorsed individual candidates but has no equivalent recruitment program.
School boards are officially non-partisan offices. Wolaridge, also a delegate member of the California School Boards Association, says this year that has fallen by the wayside.
“This is a nonpartisan seat,” Wolaridge said. “People forget that. You may have your partisan point of view, but this is still a non-partisan seat.”
On the ballot, the candidates were listed without party preferences, but in the course of the campaign, the boundaries between liberal and conservative positions were drawn: on the continuous resolution of the consequences of the pandemic, on the representation of LGBTQ people in schools, and on the role of religion in education.
As both sides say they’re fighting for parents and children, it’s political ideology that could come out on top tonight.