Deer Creek incident shows need to move school-board elections to November

Jonathan Small | March 4, 2024

Recent news reports show students at Deer Creek Public Schools licking peanut butter off other individuals’ feet as part of a fundraising event. The shocking video quickly became national and international news.

Most adults reacted with shock and wondered why school administrators allowed this to happen.

The answer, in part, is that local schools are not particularly accountable to local parents. School board elections are scheduled at odd times of the year to minimize parent involvement.

Even before the Deer Creek incident, lawmakers were considering legislation to move school-board elections to the November ballot to increase turnout and public input. But the toe-licking antics in Deer Creek highlight how far afield an administration can stray when officials don’t face serious oversight.

Officials at Deer Creek High School acknowledge that the kids-licking-peanut-butter-off-toes event occurred at an assembly hosted by the high school on Feb. 29 called Clash of Classes. High-school students were allowed to participate in the event, which raised money for a local coffee shop that employs people with special needs.

Deer Creek school officials dismissed concerns about the event by noting that district faculty and staff did not directly participate in any events at the school-hosted assembly.

That raises all kinds of questions, however, including why no school officials were involved in a school-hosted assembly, or if there are any limits on activities that may occur on school property. At least one activity at this fundraising event had clear sexual-fetish undertones, but apparently no one at the school objected.

The lackadaisical attitude of school officials is the result, in part, of a system in which public oversight of schools is severely diminished.

School-board elections are supposed to provide voter influence over schools. But those elections are conducted at odd times of the year with almost no public notification, ensuring that few even know to vote and effectively stripping taxpayers of oversight. I live in the Deer Creek school district, and I can assure you that voting in last year’s election—on Valentine's Day—was not exactly top of mind for many parents.

Research shows that the April 5, 2022, school-board elections held in Oklahoma drew an average of 4 percent of voters and in some communities turnout was even lower.

In contrast, the November 2022 elections, which included statewide races such as governor, drew 50.35 percent of voters, while the November 2020 elections, when the presidential race topped the ballot, attracted 69.34 percent of voters.

House Bill 3563, by state Rep. Chris Banning, would move school-board general elections to November, placing them on the same ballot as major state and federal elections such as presidential and gubernatorial races, ensuring far higher voter turnout.

Supposed “education” lobbyists, such as those employed by the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, have come out strongly against placing school-board races on the ballot of high-turnout elections.

One opponent, state Rep. Dick Lowe, said he is opposed because higher-turnout general elections draw “a lot of non-informed voters.”

Of course, those “non-informed” voters would probably oppose hosting events where underage students lick peanut butter off people’s toes, and they might even ask uncomfortable questions about other issues.

It was always a good idea to move school-board elections to November. But the mess at Deer Creek removes all doubt.

Jonathan Small President

Jonathan Small


Jonathan Small, C.P.A., serves as President and joined the staff in December of 2010. Previously, Jonathan served as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma Office of State Finance, as a fiscal policy analyst and research analyst for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and as director of government affairs for the Oklahoma Insurance Department. Small’s work includes co-authoring “Economics 101” with Dr. Arthur Laffer and Dr. Wayne Winegarden, and his policy expertise has been referenced by The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, National Review, the L.A. Times, The Hill, the Wall Street Journal and the Huffington Post. His weekly column “Free Market Friday” is published by the Journal Record and syndicated in 27 markets. A recipient of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s prestigious Private Sector Member of the Year award, Small is nationally recognized for his work to promote free markets, limited government and innovative public policy reforms. Jonathan holds a B.A. in Accounting from the University of Central Oklahoma and is a Certified Public Accountant.

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