Westside Board Of Education Caucus Results Give Insight To Upcoming Election


Image courtesy of Westside Community Schools's Twitter

The 2020 Westside Caucus was hosted at Westside High School on Tuesday, Feb. 4, at 7:00 p.m. The caucus determines who will move forward in the Board of Education election which will be held this May.

Westside Community Schools is currently undergoing the election process for two positions on the district’s Board of Education. Board members Beth Morrissette and Dana Blakely are the two individuals whose seats are open; both Morrissette and Blakely are seeking reelection for those seats, along with two other candidates running besides them. Former social studies instructor and coach at Westside High School, John Brian, and Westside community member Edgar Hicks are also on the ballot. Last Tuesday, Feb. 4, the district hosted the 2020 Caucus for the election, taking place at Westside High School at 7:00 p.m. 

“Westside is the only district in the state of Nebraska that has a caucus for the school board, and so it’s very unique in the state for that reason,” Morrissette said. “The current structure of Westside board is six elected officials sit on the board and so every two years, two of the seats are up for reelection, so our terms are six years. We then have the district appoint a caucus committee of representatives that are registered voters and live within the district, and they review and determine the rules for the caucus.”

Morrissette first ran for school board in 2012, where she was a write in at the caucus, and placed third out of the four candidates. Morrissette ended up losing that election, however, she ran again in 2014, and ended up winning and has since served on the school board. Morrissette provides some insight as to what the expectations are for Westside’s Board of Education.

“Our goal as the Board of Education is to primarily review and approve policy recommendations by the district administration and we provide oversight to the superintendent, meaning we don’t manage him…but instead we hold him accountable to clear expectations and what we see as his priorities year after year,” Morrissette said. “We then have fiscal oversight to the district, budget and make sure that the district is voting budgets that represent the goals of the district within the means of revenue we receive through different funding sources. I would also say we are often advocates on behalf of the district, such as down in the legislature.” 

For each Board of Education election, only the top four individuals from the caucus move forward. This year, since there were only four candidates running, they will all receive the opportunity to continue in the election. The results from the caucus showed that Blakely received 155 votes, Morrissette received 120, Brian received 58 and Hicks received 57. Morrissette said that she feels confident about the results from the caucus due to her and Blakely’s work they have done while on the Board of Education.

“I feel good about the results [of the caucus],” Morrissette said. “Dana [Blakely] and I have worked really hard in the last six years, and have really built a lot of connections with people in the district through visiting schools, working on the bond campaign, or the levy override, and also just participating in the district foundation and kind of growing who we know and building relationships.”

Morrissette said that she believes the district has been doing well and that the results of the caucus show that community members are pleased with the current board members. 

“Currently, the district seems like it’s in a good spot,” Morrissette said. “So overall I think people are pretty happy about the current Board of Education and so i think that that helps Dana [Blakely] and I as incumbents, whereas the other two individuals have not had the exposure across the district and with there not being a big demand for change, the caucus votes didn’t surprise me.”

Vice Chair of the Caucus Committee Amy Brown has served on the committee in previous election years and said that she has enjoyed her time being involved with it.

“I was on [the caucus committee in 2018], this is my second term,” Brown said. “[Former Superintendent] Blane McCann had just asked me to be on it two terms ago and so I’ve kind of continued to stay on it because I find it to be a really interesting committee.”

Brown described the duties assigned to the caucus committee. 

“Our primary duties are to carry out the rules in place for the voting procedures and to maintain an unbiased position,” Brown said. “We [also] count votes and execute the caucus voting to get on the ballot.”

Brown said that she feels as though the caucus was successful and that it shows the strong and supportive community within Westside. 

“I felt that it went smoothly for our committee and smoothly for the school district,” Brown said. “It’s always nice to see that people in this district care, that they care to come out and that they care to run [for school board]. Because being on the school board is an enormous task that I personally, would find a big challenge, and to think that people do this as a volunteer position is pretty incredible and it says a lot about the people in our community.”

Morrissette said that there are not any further important dates regarding the election until May. For the next three months, the four candidates will campaign and attempt to get their name and message out around the Westside district. 

“So from now until the second Tuesday in May, is campaign season,” Morrissette said. “So each candidate will determine their strategy in what they believe will help them be successful. I would anticipate you seeing yard signs popping up six to eight weeks prior to the May election, and then typically candidates will do a lot of door knocking.”

Morrissette said that she believes campaigning helps candidates such as herself gain insight from Westside community members and residents on issues that they feel are important.

“I like campaigning because it’s a great opportunity to knock on doors and hear what is important to people who have students or used to have students or have never had students [in the district],” Morrissette said. “You just get so much feedback from the people that we’re trying to make sure we’re being responsible with their dollars and their support, and it’s just a great way to hear what people are thinking about, worried about, and excited about.”

Morrissette said that she encourages voters to do research on the candidates running for election, whether that be for the Board of Education election, Omaha’s primary election, Nebraska’s primary election or the presidential election. 

“If you’re of age, register to vote and vote,” Morrissette said. “Do some looking into the different candidates to make a determination of who you want to vote for, versus just voting for someone just because of their political party or just because of their gender. Really look at what that person stands for and what you believe they’re going to bring to the community that best matches who you are as an individual and what’s important to you.”