Local school boards are a uniquely American institution and at the heart of this country’s public education system. A board’s existence is based on the belief that lay control of public education makes schools flexible and responsive to the needs of the local community… states the introductory paragraph of the Arizona School Board Association document Interested in School Board Service? Other state school board associations phrase the concept of school board service in a similar manner.
Members of organizations such as the Learning Disabilities Association of America are uniquely qualified to become school board members based on their involvement with educational issues over a period of years, their ability to read and understand large volumes of educational information, the need to work well with others and to compromise when needed, the ability to make difficult decisions and to build important relationships.
On Tues., Nov. 8, in most states, school board members will be elected by the voters of their districts. There are exceptions: New York holds school board elections in May to coincide with the electorate vote on school board budgets; some states appoint their board members. Board members in some districts and states receive a salary; in others, board members serve as volunteers. However, conference and travel expenses for training are paid by the district in which they serve.
States and school districts have different requirements for filing candidate nominating petitions and obtaining the necessary signatures to have their name placed on a ballot. This information can be obtained from your local school district, the county superintendent of schools, or your State School Board Association. Generally, nominating petitions must be filed from 60 to 90 days in advance of the election, depending on the law in your state. So, petitions need to be submitted by early August to early September. The number of valid signatures that must be obtained will vary in each school district.
Most school districts strive to see that the district electorate is aware of the candidates and issues in the district. Some publish a district newsletter, mailed to all district residents, where all candidates are showcased with their picture, brief background information, and a narrative (usually limited to a few hundred words). This information may also be available on a school district’s web site. Others provide candidate forums in district schools for which the League of Women Voters will usually provide a moderator as a public service. In smaller districts the parent-teacher organization may develop a voter’s guide with candidates’ responses to questions such as:
- Why are you seeking this office?
- What do you hope to accomplish, if elected?
- What is the most important issue facing the district in the next few years?
Candidates’ responses are generally limited to a predetermined number of words. Sentences are sometimes ended in mid-sentence should the candidate exceed the stated maximum.
Besides good, effective school board members, an effective school district requires an informed and active electorate. Check with your school district to see if a candidates’ forum is planned, whether there will be a voters’ guide produced by the district, or whether information on the candidates will appear in the district or school newsletter or on the district’s website. For specific information on the duties and responsibilities of a school board member in your state, or the requirements for running for the board, visit the National School Boards Association website and click on your state.
Shirley Hilts-Adams served on a public school Board of Education, on a charter school Board of Directors, and on a school board for a North Central Association accredited school system for a state juvenile correction system. She is a long-time member of the Learning Disabilities Association of America.