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Grinnell College community reacts to the school board election results

After the school board election results of Nov. 2, the Grinnell College community reflects on the importance of local politics. Graphic by Shabana Gupta.

With three challengers winning over the incumbent candidates, the Grinnell-Newburg School Board has undergone drastic turnover. Tyler Harter was elected as School Board chair and Chris Starrett and Roger Belcher were elected as Grinnell School Board’s newest at-large directors. Starrett and Belcher gained publicity for their positions against mask mandates and the Culturally Responsive Scorecard in Grinnell schools. The close results have reminded members of the College community how important their vote is.

Nat Jordan `21, co-chair of the campus Democrats, worked to encourage Grinnell students to vote in the days approaching November 2. He saw a clear distinction between the candidates running, and the possible implications that could have on the local community.

“Local politics are crucial,” he said, “and I think, unfortunately, a lot of students failed to realize that.”

Seeing that two of the challengers were running on only a couple of issues, like mask mandates and critical race theory, Jordan worries about their capability to effectively serve on a school board. These worries intensified after he watched the League of Women Voters forum with the candidates.

“I thought it was pretty concerning that there was a question asked about budgeting and they [Starret and Belcher] basically both said ‘oh I know nothing about budgeting,’” he said, “and that’s the number one job of a school board.”

The close margins of the election solidify Jordan’s stance that student involvement is more important than ever, with only 39 votes deciding a victory for Tyler Harter over Helen Redmond. Essentially, Grinnell students alone could have changed the results.

Going forward, Jordan hopes to continue to encourage students to vote in local elections, and deeply believes that students do have a role in shaping the Grinnell local community. He argues that Grinnell is a student’s home for four or five years and that professors and staff make decisions on where to work based on factors like local politics and quality of the school district.

He also hopes that the administration will play a larger role in making the voting process easier for students.

“There is a dearth of voting information on the [Grinnell College] website,” he said, “which is startling. If you look up basically any other peer institution, they will have voting information on their website.”

Ross Haenfler, beyond being the department chair of sociology, is a parent to a 3rd grader and 7th grader attending Grinnell local public schools. As such, he is directly affected by the outcome of the schoolboard elections.

While he does not think that there will be immediate radical changes within Grinnell schools as a result of the elections, he does fear for the way the new directors could affect how the School Board is conducted.

“It could make School Board meetings, which are typically non-partisan, more contentious,” he said.

Similar to Jordan, Haenfler also feels that the two-issue nature of these candidates could affect their actual ability to serve on a School Board.

“It [Starrett and Belcher’s victory] could embolden other challengers that I’m not sure have the best sense of what the School Board does in terms of budgets and oversights and are really just honing in on some of these hot-button cultural issues,” he said.

That being said, while he will continue to stay informed politically and financially contribute toward candidates that he supports, Haenfler also recognizes the importance of staying engaged with those he may not agree with. According to Haenfler, the issues that became hot button topics in the Grinnell election is part of a larger national pattern.

“I try to strike a balance between holding people in my community accountable, and at the same time knowing that its bigger than us,” he said. “This was a manifestation of a broader pattern: this sense of frustration and anger and backlash.”

Belcher and Starrett both did not respond to requests for comment on this article.

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Eleanor Corbin
Eleanor Corbin, Editor in Chief
Eleanor is a fourth-year political science major with a concentration in statistics. Nine out of ten times she is ready and willing to discuss embroidery, types of loose-leaf tea, and metal music. Best approached with her favorite candy, cherry Twizzler bites, in hand.
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  • A

    Amelia LoboNov 22, 2021 at 6:36 pm

    Prior comments take exception to Grinnell College students having an interest and a vote in local elections. I am going to weigh in specifically on that point and not the results of this particular school board election. Students who vote in Grinnell do so because this is their community for the 4 years of their stay. It is the place where they become adults and first participate in democracy. They are fully a part of the community. Public education is ALL of our investment and is for the benefit of not just the students currently enrolled in public schools and their parents but ALL of us as a nation. We all have a stake in having excellent schools that teach all our students equitably, transmit universal values. They are not a place to transmit the specific values of specific parents but rather to teach students to think critically; to question the world around them; to discover their own place in the world. Regardless of whether we are parents, or pay taxes, or intend to stay in this small community forever, we ALL have a stake in public education. That’s why we ALL have a voice. To say that only “permanent” residents of Grinnell, or only parents, or only teachers, or only administrators should have a voice in our schools is to ignore the importance of public education to our broader community and to our democracy.

  • M

    MelissaNov 18, 2021 at 11:48 pm

    I guess the college students aren’t getting the extra credits they were promised to go vote?‍♀️ Stay out of our schools and stay away from our children.

  • P

    PamNov 18, 2021 at 7:31 pm

    I respectfully disagree with most of this
    article. I don’t believe college students should vote in local elections. They don’t pay taxes and don’t have children attending our schools. Parents and local citizens should decide what is best for our community, and not have results influenced by college students. As you say, they are only here 4 – 5 years, and do not have to live with the consequences of their vote. I also watched the League of Women Voters forum, and came away with a completely different opinion. I don’t recall Chris or Roger saying they “knew nothing
    about budgeting”, I recall them stating they didn’t know about the “school” budget, but were anxious to learn if elected. As far as budgeting – how is it responsible budgeting to buy two properties for a new school (yet to
    have voter approval), that turn out to be
    unsuitable for building on at all? Seems the current board failed on the number one job of a school board. School board meetings, or any meetings typically ARE non-partisan when the board consists of one political party, there is always room for new ideas and opinions. School board meetings, especially, should not be political, they should not be “contentious” just because there are differing view points and ideas on how best to serve the school district. Every board member was new at one time and had to learn, we should give the new board members a chance to do that. This election should show that people are unhappy with the status quo and voted to have some change.

  • A

    AlexNov 18, 2021 at 5:26 am

    Grinnell college students have NO business voting for the Grinnell School Board. You’re not paying taxes and do not have children in the system. Stay our.

  • E

    Elyssa HallNov 17, 2021 at 9:27 pm

    The local residents who have grown up in this community, lived here and started families here for years and those that continue to live and grow here would like to be interviewed on the importance of conservative parents having a say in what our local public school district, that our years of tax dollars have funded, be teaching non partisan, non biased, core educational programs.