New Indiana bill would allow political parties in school board races

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana lawmakers held a hearing Monday on a bill that would allow school board candidates to declare a political party affiliation on the ballot.

Under Senate Bill 188, all candidates would have a political party affiliation next to their name on the ballot or would run as independent candidates.

The idea, which is backed by some Republican lawmakers, was discussed in a committee hearing in the House last year. But the bill died after no one testified in support.

This session, both opponents and supporters testified before the Senate Elections committee.

“I find that there’s a large interest in having people designate their party in school board elections,” said State Sen. Jack Sandlin (R-Indianapolis), the author of Senate Bill 188.

One of those interested in the idea: Zionsville parent Kristen Hoerr. She and other supporters argue school board races are already partisan and that declaring a party affiliation gives voters clarity.

“Adding this designation does not mean that we have to bring politics into the classroom,” said Hoerr, who helps run the Zionsville-based organization Parents for Accountable Schools. “We’re using a political process to make a decision about who’s going to be on these boards.”

But others say they’re worried politics would play a role if the bill becomes law.

Linda Singer, a longtime school board member for Western School Corporation in Howard County, pointed out school boards handle several matters.

“It is quite possible that we would have undue pressure to be applied to us as to who we hire,” Singer said.

Several school professional organizations and the Indiana PTA spoke in opposition, also raising concerns about how the change would limit who runs for school board.

Democrats and one Republican on the committee, State Sen. Greg Walker (R-Columbus), supported an amendment to eliminate the party affiliation language from the bill, but the amendment failed.

“People who are sitting on our school boards right now – folks that have incredibly valuable input, that care deeply about our children, that have experience in looking at contracts, for example – wouldn’t get elected because of that letter behind their name,” said State Sen. Andrea Hunley (D-Indianapolis).

The committee chairman, State Sen. Jon Ford (R-Terre Haute), did not hold a vote on the bill Monday since lawmakers will continue to work on the legislation, he said. He did not indicate when the bill may get a vote to advance out of committee.

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