You may have heard that voting for local elected officials matters, but why is that? What does it mean to vote for positions like mayor, city council, and school board?
What Does a School Board Do?
The school board has two major roles:
Representing the concerns of citizens and parents to the school administration, and
Representing the needs of the school district and the students back to citizens and parents.
The school board is not in charge of the district’s day-to-day operations; that job falls to the district’s superintendent, who is like the CEO of the district. The school board sets the policies and goals for the district, while the superintendent implements those policies and works toward the goals.
Each school board has different responsibilities, but these are most common:
- Establishing the Vision for the School District: The school board adopts a vision and goals for the district and assesses outcomes, such as the high school graduation rates for the district.
- Hiring and Evaluating the Superintendent: The school board oversees the superintendent who manages the district.
- Setting Policy: School districts have vast policy needs like staff hiring criteria, student handbooks, food service, facilities, transportation, and more. School boards rely on the superintendent's and staff's recommendations to help them set these policies.
- Adopting the Annual Budget: The school board reviews, approves, and monitors the annual budget as the year progresses.
- Approving Curriculum: Most school boards have some oversight over the school curriculum, although the state usually sets content standards they must follow.
- Responding to Stakeholders: School board members respond to a large constituency: students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers.
Being a school board member can be tough! The district’s issues can be complex and varied, and in recent years, the role has become increasingly politicized.
The Politicization of School Boards
Many school board meetings in the past were routine affairs where board members met to discuss the school district's direction. The pandemic drastically altered school board meetings in many districts where parents and community members disagreed with the school district’s COVID protocols and attended school board meetings to make their voices heard.
This disruption came to my city of Fargo, North Dakota, where a group of parents attempted to recall four of the nine school board members for many reasons, with masking and distance learning at the top of the list. The recall attempt failed for lack of valid signatures needed to trigger a recall. It continued into the next local election, where five of those who supported the recall ran together for the five open school board seats. None of them won.
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Increased attention on schools has prompted more people to run for school board to have a say in their school district's direction. Last year, one city in North Dakota had 23 candidates vying for just five school board seats! These small, typically nonpartisan races have gotten bigger and more politicized.
Voting for School Board Members
The recent politicization of school boards reveals why it is important to know more about your school board candidates. Here are more reasons why voting for them is important:
School board members handle tough community conversations. The board decides how to handle school security, racial and gender equity, and public health concerns.
School quality impacts community quality. Support for local public schools and children’s education impacts future adults who will live, work, and vote in your community.
School boards control tax dollars. A large portion of school district funding comes from local tax dollars, so even if you don’t have a child in school, you should have input into the budget of your local school district.
School board elections across the United States happen year-round, and it can be hard to know when one is coming up. We have just the tool for you! Our voter information tool VOTE411.org is updated with upcoming election dates as we see them posted.
We have local League volunteers across the country publishing their candidate guides on VOTE411. Simply enter your address to check if a guide is published in your area. This is a great way to see if your district’s school board members are up for election.
Some voters have skipped school board elections because they don’t know the candidates or don’t feel like they have a stake in the election. I hope this blog has encouraged you to head to the polls to vote for school board.
School board members have the important job of overseeing the education of future community members, and that’s powerful.
Let your peers know how important it is to vote in school board elections!
The Latest from the League
If the mayor is like the CEO of the city, then the city council is like the board of directors. It serves as the law-making body for the city.
City council members, as the lawmakers of your city, make decisions that directly impact your day-to-day life, so a vote for them is powerful for your community.
Mayors have the power to shape the vision of the city. They are the public face of the city and that role has influence. Get all the info you need to cast your vote for this significant role.
Learn where your candidates stand on the issues that matter most with your candidate guide from VOTE411.