The results of school board races across the collar counties for Republican candidates were abysmal and in some instances, unexpectedly so. Districts and regions that were Republican strongholds not long ago have transformed into Democratic fortresses, as the November results reveal.
Overall, across Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties, Republican candidates fared poorly. There were a total of 334 school director positions up for election in November, and Democrats won 75 percent of the seats, while Republicans won only 24 percent. There were a few winners whose registration could not be verified. (See Author’s Note below)
However, a more granular county-by-county analysis reveals that Delaware County Republicans outperformed Bucks, Chester, and Montgomery County Republicans by a wide margin.
|School Board Election Results (2023)
|Democratic candidate Wins
|Republican candidate Wins
Chester County Republican school board candidates fared the worst with only nine wins or fourteen percent of the contested seats. Montgomery County did not perform much better with only 20 Republican wins, totaling seventeen percent. Republican candidates in Bucks County won eighteen seats or 25 percent of the total.
Delaware County was the lone bright spot for the collar counties with a 42 percent victory rate, electing 33 Republican school board directors. Delaware County Republicans retained majorities in the majority of their districts. The results beg the question as to why this county outperformed the other three counties.
Frank Agovino, Delaware County Republican Committee Chair had this explanation. “Our Republican school directors overall have often been laser focused on offering students top notch educational experiences and extracurricular activities while being fiscally responsible and asking the right questions of school administrators. The most effective school directors are seen by residents, as neighbors and community volunteers, not as Republican or Democrat. The school board electorate in Delco wants to know you are doing the best for their children and grandchildren, not pushing an agenda based on controversial national issues.”
Taking Agovino at his word, it is possible that fewer culture war battles at school board meetings helped to bolster his school board candidates’ chances and simultaneously dampened turnout for progressives who were otherwise preoccupied with overwrought “book banning” debates in nearby counties.
However, not all Republican school director candidates in neighboring counties waded into the cultural wars. There were many middle of the road, fiscally conservative candidates who were cast as extremists and deluged with controversial messaging entirely contrary to who they were or what they stood for. Progressives and their media allies effectively framed Republican candidates as book banners and anti-LGBT extremists and were successful in moving the focus away from academic outcomes and fiscal responsibility.
In these instances, perception became reality. Even though many Republican school director candidates campaigned on a non-contentious platform, the opposition did a better job of framing them as bigots, oppressors, and so forth. Pick your favorite demagogic branding.
Montgomery County is a prime example. With 22 districts, there are only two that hold a Republican majority board according to Anthony Spangler, a Republican committee member. Of the two districts, Souderton continues to remain a Republican stronghold, and while Bryn Athyn holds a conservative majority, the district is so small that they send their students to adjacent districts.
Another interesting phenomenon that has occurred over the past few years is a change in party registration of incumbent school board directors. In Bucks County, Karen Smith was re-elected to the Central Bucks School District as a Democrat, but previously she was a registered Republican. She changed her party affiliation in 2021. Similarly in Chester County at least two school directors who previously ran and won as Republican endorsed candidates changed their party registration for the 2023 election. Gary Bevilacqua and Karen Hermann in the West Chester Area School District ran as endorsed Democratic candidates this year and won their bid for re-election.
Municipal vs. statewide candidates
Delaware County school board election results compelled a further analysis of 30 Republican-leaning precincts that showed Republican municipal candidates (commissioner, council, supervisor, etc.) fared far better than their peers at the top of the ticket.
For instance, Pennsylvania Supreme Court candidate Carolyn Carluccio significantly underperformed local Republicans across all precincts. In Drexel Hill, there were a number of local contested races for school board, town council, and mayor, Carluccio garnered seven percent fewer votes on average than her Republican counterparts.
On the Democratic side, Daniel McCaffery’s performance in the Supreme Court race demonstrated notable strength when compared to Democratic candidates in municipal races. In the same precincts, McCaffery outperformed Democratic candidates by winning fourteen percent more votes on average.
This trend, however, was even more pronounced in Haverford Township, where wards one, seven, and nine all held contested elections for school board and township commissioner. Carluccio earned fifteen percent fewer votes on average than local Republicans. McCaffery, in the same wards, outperformed local Democrats by earning eighteen percent more votes on average.
In neighboring Springfield Township wards three and seven, where there were similarly contested races for school board and auditor, Carluccio earned 23 percent fewer votes on average than local Republicans. McCaffery, again, outperformed Democratic candidates by earning seventeen percent more votes on average in these same wards.
These results may provide some useful insight for suburban Republicans looking to forge a path forward after yet another disappointing election cycle. Successful Republican candidates effectively veered away from the controversial national issues and focused on what is important to families and taxpayers. Local Republican committees with the capacity to combat media bias and progressive messaging were able to recruit quality candidates, resonate with the voters, and beat back the progressive wave.
If the county and local Republican committees can build upon this framework, they may have hope for success in future elections. The Republican committees must support the candidates that step up to run and make their job easier with effective and consistent messaging at the local level. They also need to provide resources and expertise to help their candidates, many of whom may be new to campaigning. The Delaware County election results offer hope for Republican candidates going forward — but it will take a significant investment of time and money to overcome the Democrats’ efforts to make every local race about national issues.
School Board director candidates are allowed to “cross-file,” meaning that they can run in both the Republican and Democratic primary. There were 83 candidates who won both primaries, guaranteeing them a win in the November election. For those 83 candidates, we researched their voter registration from the voter rolls and adjusted the final numbers to reflect their actual party registration. There were three candidates whose registration could not be determined. The chart and graph below shows the actual results versus the adjusted results.
School Board election results aggregated for Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery counties
|D/R cross-filed Wins
Olivia DeMarco is an Editorial Associate for Broad + Liberty. She previously served as a legislative aide in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. She holds a Masters in Public Policy from Temple University.
Beth Ann Rosica resides in West Chester, has a Ph.D. in Education, and has dedicated her career to advocating on behalf of at-risk children and families. She covers education issues for Broad + Liberty. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.