800 school board seats are up for election in Indiana. The filing deadline for candidates is June 20

Election signs line the sidewalk outside of the Indianapolis City-County Building during the 2022 elections. This year, more than 800 seats on school boards across Indiana up for election. (Amelia Pak-Harvey / Chalkbeat)

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This article was originally published by WFYI.

There are more than 800 seats on school boards across Indiana up for election in November. Incumbents and challengers have until June 20 to file paperwork to get on local ballots.

A 2023 law extended the time between the deadline for candidates to file and election day by around 60 days. In past general election cycles, voters typically found out by the end of August who was running for their school board.

“We do hope that will help with voter education, about school board candidates, about who they are and what the candidate stands for,” said Terry Spradlin, executive director of Indiana School Boards Association, an organization that supported the 2023 legislation. “So we hope it has positive benefits.”

Interest and vitriol around school boards and elections of members surged since 2020 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and social justice protests. Some community and outside groups pushed back on boards requiring masks to be worn, how teachers discussed racial identity and racism in the classroom, student mental health initiatives, and other real or perceived issues.

Who is on the 2024 ballot?

There are 1,686 school board members across all 290 school corporations, according to ISBA. And about half of those seats will be up for election this November, Spradlin said.

Most school boards have five or seven members and the election of members is staggered every two years. Most members are elected by the public and a small number of boards are appointed by local officials.

Members serve for four-year terms and represent residents in the entire corporation boundary, a certain district or a township. Board members can each be compensated up to $2,000 a year plus meeting stipends, according to state law.

What do school board members do?

School boards have four core duties: adopting policies, such as creation of the student handbook and integration of state and federal regulations; hiring and evaluating the superintendent; approval of the annual budget and overall fiscal oversight; and strategic goals for the district.\

Boards also hold public meetings where they accept public comment and vote on everything from the cost of textbooks, to the permanent closure of a school, to seeking a voter-approved property-tax referendum to increase local funding.

Spradlin urges board members to not get involved in day-to-day operations, or administrators’ decisions to hire or fire school staff. Leave that to the superintendent, he said. Boards do vote on personnel recommendations from the superintendent.

“We’ve been talking a lot about literacy, graduation rates, attendance rates. So we want boards to be very engaged in monitoring progress on student achievement outcomes, and setting goals,” Spradlin said.

Politics in the 2022 school board elections

School board members are non-partisan elected positions. Candidates can choose to volunteer political affiliation in their campaigns. In the 2022 election, politics played a large role in some races where candidates stressed their party affiliation through messaging or endorsements from politicians.

Indiana’s Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita and U.S. Sens. Todd Young and Mike Braun endorsed three self-described conservative candidates running for the Carmel Clay school board. One of the candidates won. Braun is now running for governor.

That same year, GOP state Rep. J.D. Prescott (R-Union City) authored a bill that would require school board candidates to identify with a political party and include that designation on the ballot. The legislation did not gain traction.

In the 2022 general election, 70 percent of incumbent school board members ran for reelection, according to the ISBA. Of those incumbents, 85 percent of those who filed for reelection won.

How to run for a school board seat

Candidates must be at least 21 years of age and not be employed as a teacher or staff member of the school corporation they are seeking to represent. Candidates are required to live in the township, district or corporation the board seat represents.

In most community school corporations, the petition of nomination and consent must be signed by the candidate and 10 registered voters who live within the boundaries of the school corporation.

Spradlin recommends candidates check with the local voter registration office to confirm requirements. The ISBA offers information for candidates on its website, and will host a free webinar Thursday for people considering filing to run.

Eric Weddle is the WFYI education editor. Contact Eric at eweddle@wfyi.org.

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