Of all the primary political signs that were spread throughout the city where I reside, at least three of four deal with local school board elections.
This is not an anomaly. I cannot remember a time in an election cycle in which the majority of roadside political signs of local and state office did not refer to the school board elections. Those elections are that important because so much is at stake.
The largest part of a state’s budget tends to be toward public education. A major part of a school board’s (city or county) identity is how it helps students achieve within what resources and funds are available. In North Carolina, where a state general assembly tends to pass more fiscal responsibility to LEA’s (think class size mandate), a school board’s calling to help all students achieve must be met by those who truly understand what best helps schools and students.
No wonder school board elections are so important.
At the heart of a school board’s responsibilities are supporting a selected superintendent, guiding the creation of policies and curriculum, making sure there are adequate facilities, and seeing that budgetary needs are met.
That means understanding what students, teachers, and support staff need. That means understanding how schools operate and how they are affected by mandates and laws that come from Raleigh. And when policies that are handed down from the state that may not treat the local system favorably, then the school board must confront those in Raleigh and help fight for what is best for the local students.
There are 115 LEA’s in North Carolina – lots of school boards who should know their students best and know what obstacles that their schools face which need to be removed.
But what if one of those obstacles is the North Carolina General Assembly? Consider a per-pupil expenditure rate that is lower when adjusted for inflation than before the Great Recession. Consider the lack of textbook funds and overcrowded buildings and state mandates for testing that take many school days away from instruction. Consider the funding of unproven reforms like an Innovative School District and vouchers. Consider the growth of unregulated charter schools. Consider teacher pay and local supplements. Consider that there is a drastic reduction in teacher candidates in our universities. That is just a small list.
All of that brings to light what might be one of the most important jobs that a school board must undertake: it must be willing to challenge the state in an explicit and overt manner on matters that directly affect their local schools.
In a state where almost 1 in 4 students lives in poverty and where Medicaid was not extended to those who relied on such services, schools are drastically affected as students who walk into schools bring in their life challenges. If student achievement is a primary responsibility of a school board, whatever stands in the way of students being able to achieve becomes an issue that a school board must confront.
So, is the person whose name is on a political sign for school board candidacy willing to fight for our schools even if it means confronting Raleigh’s policies?
That might be the first question I might ask of any candidate for local school board – the first of many.