HB88 requires school board candidates to be publicly listed, even if checks are pending.

Groups support bill speeding up school board candidacy

Jarek RutzHeadlines, Education

HB88 requires school board candidates to be publicly listed, even if checks are pending.

HB88 requires school board candidates to be publicly listed, even if checks are pending.

With pressure from Delaware educational organizations, a bill that would prevent delays to school board candidate campaigns garnered support Wednesday from the Senate Education Committee. 

House Bill 88, sponsored by Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark, would require the state’s Department of Elections to publicly list school board candidates who are waiting for their background checks to be completed as a “provisional candidate.”

A law that requires candidates to complete a criminal background check and a child registry check created issues for the 2023 school board elections, as voters weren’t given the full list of candidates until about three weeks after the March 3 filing deadline.

The delay created issues of transparency, but also cut down the amount of weeks candidates had to campaign, Laurisa Schutt, executive director of First State Educate, a local education advocacy group, previously said.

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Sen. Laura Sturgeon, D-Hockessin, and chair of the Senate Education Committee, said Wednesday that the law requiring the extensive checks was put into place because there had been some incidents of school board members committing crimes against children. She did not provide any examples.

“There was really no law that prevented them from keeping their seat or running for office again,” she said, adding that it unanimously passed through both chambers. 

The law, passed in 2021, went into effect this year. 

“The Department of Elections did not feel they had the legal authority to put their name out publicly as being candidates because they were just provisional, pending the background check,” Sturgeon said. 

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This created a hardship for people who were considering running for school board, she said, because they wanted to be aware of what other candidates were out there to help decide whether they were going to run.

“We had a lot of advocates very upset that they could not see who had put their names forward to be school board candidates,” she said.

Two of those advocates gave public comments Wednesday supporting HB 88.

John Marinucci, executive director of the Delaware School Boards Association, said the group is absolutely in favor of the bill.

He said the group supports the swift resolution to an unidentified or a previously unknown issue with the 2021 law, which they refer to as the School Board Accountability Bill.

Britney Mumford, executive director of DelawareCAN, said her organization also favors the bill. 

“DelawareCAN Action Fund works heavily on school board elections, and things were really complicated this year,” she said. “We fully support it and appreciate the partnership that Sen. Sturgeon had with some of our advocates and other organizations out in the field doing this work to get this cleared up so quickly.”

HB88 was not publicly voted on, since Senate committees do not vote in public. They will sign the back of the bill with their votes, which are reported hours later on the state’s bill tracker.

As of early afternoon Wednesday, the votes have not been published. 

However, it passed unanimously in the House Education Committee and on the House floor, so it is expected to be on its way to the Senate floor.

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