He's antigay and a race extremist. He's running unopposed for a Bay Area school board seat – San Francisco Chronicle

Dennis Delisle, who is running unopposed for one of the seats on the Morgan Hill school board, wrote that modern descendants of slaves are “so much better off” than if their ancestors “had been left in the country that they came from.” Delisle also opposes homosexuality and gay marriage, according to a self-published book he wrote in 2012, and likes to quote a Founding Father who believed “the number one purpose of public schools is to teach youth, young people, the Word of God.”
A candidate running unopposed for one of the seats on the Morgan Hill school board wrote that modern descendants of slaves are “so much better off” than if their ancestors “had been left in the country that they came from.”
Dennis Delisle also opposes homosexuality and gay marriage, according to a self-published book he wrote in 2012, and likes to quote a founding father who believed “the number one purpose of public schools is to teach youth, young people, the Word of God.”
Unless another candidate steps forward in the next few days, Delisle will automatically win the seat, his race for the Area 3 position not even appearing on the November ballot — a cost-saving state policy that applies to unopposed candidates in school board and special elections.
Yet Delisle is one of more than 100 candidates across the Bay Area currently running unopposed for a seat on a school board. If no challengers step forward at the 11th hour, their names will never even appear on a ballot because their sure-thing win will become official three months before election day.
As school board races have become increasingly politicized, finding citizens to run for the time-consuming, low-paying position can often be a hard sell, especially in smaller communities. In unopposed races, voters will learn about a candidate’s potentially extreme positions only after they are in jobs that affect the educational fate of thousands of children.
“Given the huge time commitment if you do it well, given the amount of work involved, the amount of scrutiny and sometimes hostility school boards are experiencing, it’s not exactly an enticing position,” said Troy Flint, spokesperson for the California School Boards Association. “My fear is that if the position becomes less appealing, the only people who will run will have self-interested reasons for doing so.”
In an interview this week, Delisle said he just wants to make a difference and that he has the skills, from his work as an accountant and business owner, to help the district.
“I can, so I decided I will,” he said of his candidacy. “I want transparency. I want to know what you’re teaching my kids.”
He said he’s frustrated seeing lower proficiency rates despite increased district spending.
Statewide, the deadline to declare candidacy in school board races was end-of-day Friday, but if the incumbent for a seat declines to run, that deadline is extended five days — until 5 p.m. Wednesday.
In the case of Morgan Hill’s Area 3, in which Delisle is the only candidate, incumbent Heather Orosco has said she will not run. Four years ago she ran unopposed and was automatically elected.
About half of the 64 school board races in Santa Clara County were unopposed as of Thursday, as were more than a third in Alameda County and more than 3 out of 4 seats in San Mateo County.
Parent David Weekly just threw his hat into the ring for the Area 2 seat on the Redwood City School District Board of Education.
“It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, but I was leaning toward no,” said the tech industry CEO. “I saw what an enormous time commitment it really was.”
He has been involved in local politics for years but knew the commitment would take him away from his family. Still, when he heard the incumbent for the seat wasn’t running, he decided to run, with support from local elected officials and others in the community.
“I thought well, jeez, somebody has to do it,” he said. “I care about public schools being vibrant and healthy and providing a good education for everyone.”
Serving on a school board is a demanding position that doesn’t pay well. Only in Los Angeles is it a full-time job. Elsewhere it’s a side job. In Morgan Hill, board members get $240 per month, and in San Francisco, $500, despite the dozens of hours required to prepare for and participate in board meetings.
Jan Soule, a member of the county’s Republican Central Committee, has been recruiting people to run for school board in Santa Clara County, including Delisle.
“The people I’ve recruited are all people who have been fed up with what is happening in the schools — kids being lured to change gender. Are you aware of that?” she said.
Soule said she doesn’t believe there’s an unwillingness to run, but rather significant costs associated with the effort, which for many are covered by labor unions backing the candidate. Those without significant endorsements or political donations have to pay the fees themselves.
That can include a school board candidate spending $700 to more than $7,000 for a 200-word candidate statement in the voter guide, depending on the district and county. Costs vary, based on the number of registered voters, language translation requirements and printing costs, as well as whether the school district shares the cost.
“For people who just want to make a difference, who have principles, family values and they want to run because it’s about the kids, coming up with all that money is a big thing,” Soule said. “That’s one of the key deterrents for people running.”
Delisle, on his candidate website, said he wants schools to get “back to basics,” and “less time on social engineering and more time on the basics of education.”
“With faith, integrity, persistence, moral character, and hard work, you can accomplish your dreams in America,” he said.
His book, “Calling the Called,” offers a more in-depth perspective of his beliefs, which center on a Christian nation, including a Biblical presence in public life.
That would include opposition to homosexuality and gay marriage, as well as more restrictive divorce laws, because “God hates” divorce, and “women who are divorced rather than being better off are sicker and poorer and sadder.”
He agrees in his book that “keeping the state of government limited and in check is the responsibility of our churches.”
Delisle said he wrote the book 10 years ago, his second after a Bible study book he wrote with his wife.
“We’re Christians, and we’re not trying to hide anything about that,” he said. “I think we need to get moral and ethical standards back.”
Delisle did not respond to additional questions regarding how or if he would advocate for his personal beliefs as a school board member.
Morgan Hill school board President John Horner is also running unopposed so far, one of many school board incumbents across the region who won’t face a challenger.
He said he’s been on the phone a lot trying to recruit people to run for his district’s school board.
“I just want decent people that are hardworking, that have integrity and have the best interest of students in mind,” he said. “It’s a time-demanding job.”
Horner noted that publicized scandal and drama among some Bay Area school boards is also a deterrent. Yet he added that he’s seeing a “big push nationwide” to tilt school boards to one political perspective or another.
Steve Bannon, former President Donald Trump’s onetime political strategist, has said the “path to save the country” goes through school boards.
That gives Horner pause.
“If good people don’t step up, then you get what’s left,” he said. “When you only have one, then you get somebody whatever their perspective and politics are, who can be wildly non-representative of the community.”
Horner said he isn’t familiar with Delisle and didn’t comment specifically on his candidacy. He did say he’s been working the phones to recruit more candidates for the seven-member school board before the deadline.
“For democracy to function, there are multiple candidates with different viewpoints and programmatic objectives,” he said. “That’s how it’s supposed to work.”
Flint echoed that.
“Ideally, the public should have a choice,” he said. “At the same time if no one is interested in running or only one candidate is willing to run, that’s a statement from the public of a different kind.”
Jill Tucker is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: jtucker@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @jilltucker
Jill Tucker has covered education in California for 22 years, writing stories that range from issues facing Bay Area school districts to broader national policy debates. Her work has generated changes to state law and spurred political and community action to address local needs.
She is a frequent guest on KQED’s “Newroom” television show and “Forum” radio show. A Bay Area native, Jill earned a master’s degree in journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder and a bachelor’s degree from the UC Santa Barbara. In between, she spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer teaching English in Cape Verde, West Africa.


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