Of the 20 people who testified before the House Election Committee on Tuesday, none testified in support of a bill to make school board races partisan by having candidates declare their party affiliation.

Terry Spradlin, the executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association, said his organization had concerns that politicizing school board races would further fuel partisan conflicts.

“There is no Democrat or Republican way to feed or transport children, pay bills, plan facility improvements, (etc.),” Spradlin said. “Politics may compromise the ability of a school board to put students first.”

Bill author J.D. Prescott, R-Union City, said he’d heard from his constituents a desire for more transparency in school board elections on where candidates sit on the political spectrum.

“School boards handle one of the largest budgets with our elected offices,” Prescott said.

I think you can rank and even tell the difference between financial responsibility (and) moral character ... just having that extra indication on the ballot will help share to voters a little bit more about the candidates on the ballot.”

Prescott clarified that candidates would either register as Republican, Democrat or Independent – with the Independent label covering minor parties including Libertarians – and school boards would require their own vote, not part of straight-ballot tickets.

The Independent label would also apply to certain military members and federal employees who cannot run with a party affiliation under federal law.

Several who testified said they had concerns that party labels would narrow the pool of candidates who want to run and create a toxic environment — possibly trickling down to the hiring of teachers based on their political views.

“When my fellow school board members and I meet, we leave our party affiliation at the door,” John Doherty, a school board member in Munster, said. “We have been elected by Democrats, Independents and Republicans, but our core constituents — the students — are none of these.”

Brandon Croft, a former school board president and current board member of Duneland Schools, said that politics hadn’t entered into discussions until roughly 16 months ago.

In that time, fights over LGBTQ rights, critical race theory and masks had erupted — the latter leading to threats against members and increased police patrols.

“My simple view is that partisan politics do not belong in a school corporation level,” Croft said. “We want to put students first… we don’t want to have to decide whether to put out a Republican agenda or a Democrat agenda.”

Justin Ohlemiller, with Stand for Children, said the bill would specifically discourage minority board members from running for school board races — such as Republicans in Marion County, where his organization engages with parents in elections.

“It’s already hard to find talent for one of the most challenging jobs in America,” Ohlemiller said.

The committee only heard testimony on Tuesday and will vote on amendments to the bill before voting on the legislation at its next meeting, which hasn’t been scheduled.
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