School board candidates question Boise district's impartiality

broberts@idahostatesman.comAugust 19, 2014 

From left, the seven candidates vying for three seats on the Boise School District Board of Trustees are: Brian Cronin and Travis Jones, competing for a two-year term; and Nancy Gregory, John Hruby, Doug Park, Anthony Shallat and Grant Walden, competing for a pair of six-year terms. Gregory and Park are incumbents.

  • WHO'S RUNNING

    The Boise School District board of trustees has three seats up - a two-year term and two for six-year terms.

    Two-year term

    Brian Cronin, a marketing and communications consultant with Strategies 360.

    Travis Jones, executive director of the Idaho Grain Producers Association.

    Six-year terms

    (Voters choose two)

    Nancy Gregory, who is completing her second term.

    John Hruby, president of Soar USA, an independent consulting firm on strategy and business development in government/defense markets.

    Doug Park, a consultant who helps companies and groups manage change, is an incumbent who was appointed in 2013 to fill the vacancy left by the death of Janet Orndorff.

    Anthony Shallat, an attorney, pending passage of bar exam, and political consultant.

    Grant Walden, financial analyst for Telic Footwear.

The Boise School District's handling of the Sept. 2 school board election is coming under fire from three candidates who say they aren't getting the same chance the teachers union gets to spread their message to voters.

One candidate says the district policy of letting voters go to any school polling station and cast a ballot could lead to double voting that the district may not catch, because school officials usually don't check the names of people who voted against voting lists at each election site.

"I am extremely frustrated," said Grant Walden, one of the three. They are among five trustee candidates seeking a pair of seats for six-year terms, and two vying to complete the last two years of another seat's term.

A.J. Balukoff, president of the Boise School Board and a Democratic candidate for governor, defended the district's policy of making room in Boise schools for political campaigns. He said all candidates have access to the schools under board policy.

Walden, John Hruby and Travis Jones are collaborating in their campaigns. They work together to get help from volunteers to call voters and ask them to support all three. They say they joined forces to improve their clout.

"We are not insiders," said Walden, a financial analyst. "We are not incumbents and not the establishment."

Hruby, a business consultant, said the Boise Education Association had signs up at secondary schools during registration last week encouraging voters to pick up absentee ballots and indicating it is supporting incumbents Nancy Gregory and Doug Park for the six-year seats and former Democratic lawmaker Brian Cronin for the two-year opening.

The seventh candidate, Anthony Shallat, is not collaborating with Walden, Hruby and Jones and was not endorsed by the teachers union.

Boise Education Association officials asked the district for permission to post their endorsement list in the schools during registration. The information was put in public areas at junior high and high schools where parents and their children pick up schedules for the coming year.

The BEA cannot post political information while school is in session, but registration is not a teaching day, said Stephanie Myers, BEA president. The last time BEA endorsed a candidate was in 2006, when the union backed Virginia Pellegrini.

"I was not given a similar opportunity, but I am worried less about my exposure as a candidate and more about the ethics of the Boise School District effectively endorsing incumbent board members," Hruby wrote in a letter Saturday to Balukoff.

BEA followed the rules, Balukoff said Monday in a letter replying to Hruby.

"BEA has been diligent in following not only the letter of the policy, but also the spirit," he wrote. "We have received no such request from any other candidate or organization for similar access."

Jones, who heads an agricultural association, said he wasn't aware he could provide political information in schools.

"It concerns me ... that we weren't told that we could do that," he said. "I thought we shouldn't solicit votes on school property."

ELECTIONS RESULTS TO BE AUDITED

District officials said Monday that given the high interest in this election, they would audit the election results to verify that people aren't voting more than once. Adding that step will not slow down the unofficial reporting of results after the polls close on Sept. 2, said Don Coberly, Boise Schools superintendent.

Most school district trustee races in Idaho are supervised by county election offices. But the Boise School District predates statehood and follows its own charter, which lets it run its own trustee elections.

Walden isn't satisfied.

"The Boise School District should hand the election over to Ada County so we know we have an impartial election," he told the Idaho Statesman.

'INCUMBENT' NOTATION CHALLENGED

Hruby also complained that the district uses the letter "I" next to incumbents.

"The purpose of a ballot should be to identify candidates, not identify their positions," he said.

In Ada County, the incumbent designation isn't used, as a way to make the ballot as neutral as possible, said Phil McGrane, Ada County chief deputy clerk.

Balukoff said the district has used the "I" for a long time, but the board could look into whether to continue the practice.

"It's something we ought to talk about and see if it serves a useful purpose," he said.

Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts

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