Schonhoff & Vermooten running to “finish the flip”
Linda Vermooten and Lisa Schonhoff running for State Board of Education in Districts 2 and 3, respectively.

Schonhoff & Vermooten running to “finish the flip”

In an election year with the House, the Senate, and the Presidency hanging in the balance, a few seats for unpaid positions on the Nebraska State Board of Education (SBOE) are getting an unusual amount of attention.

Kirk Penner

“We all talk about elections,” said Kirk Penner, a current board member from Aurora representing District 5. “We’ve got Don Bacon. We’ve got Kathleen Kauth. We’ve got Felix Ungerman. Those are vitally important elections. You can’t understate that. But I will tell you these two ladies’ elections are more important.”

The two ladies are Lisa Schonhoff and Linda Vermooten, both running for open seats on the State Board of Education in Districts 3 and 2, respectively. They came along with Kirk speak at the Pachyderm Luncheon on Monday.

The board of eight members, while nominally nonpartisan, has leaned farther left over the past decade. “The board used to be a 4-4 board, but we fell asleep and it became 8-0,” said Penner. That makeup changed in 2021 to 7-1 when Penner was appointed by then Gov. Pete Ricketts to fill a vacancy. Then in 2022, two more seats flipped to conservatives — Elizabeth Tegtmeier in District 7 (Western Nebraska) and Sherry Jones in District 6 (the Grand Island area). This year, all four incumbents up for reelection chose not to run, leaving their seats up for grabs. Conservatives hope to “finish the flip” in 2024.

Lisa Schonhoff

Lisa Schonhoff

Lisa Schonhoff has been a public school teacher for 20 years, mostly recently in Bennington teaching the K-12 English as a second language (ESL) program.

“I developed the program, and I’ve been running it for the past 6 years until I resigned to do this non-paid position per state statute,” Schonhoff said. “And I’m happy to do that because I know that I can have a greater impact on kids across our state by being on the State Board of Education.”

As a public school teacher, Schonhoff can speak from first-hand experience on the struggles teachers have in teaching kids the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic.

“Nebraska has 30% of our kids in high school proficient in literacy, and if that doesn’t terrify you it should.” Schonhoff said. “It’s not about money. It’s about the fact that we keep putting more on [teachers’] plates, and we don’t take anything off. So if we keep telling them to teach DEI and SEL and CRT and every next fad that comes along, they see it’s not actually making better readers writers and mathematicians.”

Linda Vermooten

Linda Vermooten

Linda Vermooten is a clinical psychologist, with a doctorate in Clinical Psychology and a Masters in counseling. She was also an ordained pastor for 25 years with a master of divinity and Bachelor of Bible, in addition to being a registered nurse and a midwife.

Vermooten spoke on the need to teach children critical thinking and the damage done during school shutdowns and mask mandates in the wake of Covid. “We took the voice away from a generation of children,” Vermooten said. “We have done irreparable damage to those children that keep people like me employed for a lifetime, unfortunately.”

Vermooten made a special effort to encourage parental involvement in the public school system, asking everyone present to raise the right hands and take a pledge to get involved. “The time for sitting on the sidelines is behind us.”

Graphic material

Public schools have been a battleground over the past few years over sexually explicit materials being made available to minors. I told Lisa about one of my son’s third grade classmates getting upset over some of the graphic content he found in his classroom. When his mother talked to his teacher about this, she was brushed off and told that her son wasn’t required to see the content, and it would stay there regardless.

“I actually just had a let’s see our long discussion with our principal at the high school in Bennington and the librarian about that book The Bluest Eyes,” Schonhoff told me. “It’s got graphic rape scenes in it, and it’s in our library. And the librarian sat there and talked for an hour about why we have to keep it in there.”

Kirk Penner has received pushback for his attempts during his tenure to have content like this removed. “I am often blamed for bringing the cultural Wars into the schools,” Penner said. “I’m trying to get the cultural wars out of the schools.”

“I never thought I would pull my kids out of public schools,” Schonhoff said. “Now my oldest daughter is going to go to Marian, because I also don’t want her exposed to some of this graphic stuff. I want her to be a kid while she’s a kid.”

Getting the ground game

Both candidates have already been campaigning for over a year, with a heavy emphasis on face-to-face interactions with constituents and knocking on doors.

“They’re painting me out to be an extremist across our state at the School Board meetings, so I’m countering that with making that my door-knocking schedule,” Schonhoff said.

“I’ve gone about 19,000 miles so far in the five counties that I have,” said Vermooten. “When I feel bad about having five counties, I think about my good friend Lisa, who has seven counties.”

Kirk Penner was confident flipping the board would change everything. “If we elect these two, it’s over in January,” he said. “Five to three, every time — we are going to get along.”

(Author’s Note: Liz Davids is another conservative running for State Board of Education in District 1.)