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How to Choose a School Board Candidate: What Every Voter Should Know

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By GreatSchools Staff

What should I look for in a school board candidate?

First of all, you should think about the issues that are important to you in your school district. Are you concerned about student transportation, textbook adoption, funding for extracurricular activities, new curriculum standards and/or construction of new school facilities? What's your hot button? You'll want to find out where the candidates stand on issues that are important to you.

You might also look for the following qualities:

  • The ability to work well with a team and support group decisions, along with an understanding that the board sets a climate for the entire district
  • A desire to work toward a stronger relationship between the district and the public it serves
  • A keen eye toward serving the needs of all students, regardless of their abilities and backgrounds
  • A professional, poised demeanor and respectful, respectable behavior
  • Respect for diverse points of view
  • Commitment to the time and energy required each week for meetings, phone calls, conversations, visits to schools, and professional development seminars and workshops
  • Knowledge about district policies, guidelines, needs, challenges and strengths

At the heart of it all, members of a district's board of education must believe, unequivocally, in the value of public education. They must be dedicated to serving and teaching all children. They must believe in the democratic process and understand that their role is to act strategically, in line with the interests of the entire school community.

Comments from readers

"Wonderful information. "
"Our school district voted 3 times to pass a referendum to get more $$. The 3rd time they encouraged voters who do not pay property taxes to be sure and vote. They arranged many opportunities for them to register and scared them with threats of doing away with extra curricular activities, athletics, band....3rd time was the charm for the district, a burden to the tax payers. There is no improvement in the overall education of the students-our district has been on the watch list for years. :o( Beware!!"
"I appreciated your article and have a question for you about our school board. The school board put a bond to the voters for $millions, and was voted down by it's citizens. since it didn't pass, they put it on the ballot two more times; three times in all. now, since they didn't like the answer they received from the citizery, they are doing it again. in all instances, the board has people call and ask how the citizens are voting and intimidate them. if you say you are not voting for the bond, they just hang up. last election they called homes four different times. they even lied about what they were using the money for. what can the citizens do about this and is this customary?"
"While this article was written a few years ago, I found it to be a nice and simple description of a very gray area in the community. I'm curious as to others' thoughts about how long school members should be allowed to serve and do they have a right to have a voice when it comes to the student's curriculum?"
"Thank you for an excellent and informative article. In response to the question of 7/21/2010, in my school district, Santa Clara Unified (California), candidates must live in specific areas of the district (called Trustee Areas), but voters in the school district can vote for board members in all trustee areas. For example, I'm currently running for the school board in Trustee Area 2 of Santa Clara Unified School District (I live in Trustee Area 2), but voters in our school district are able to vote for candidates in Trustee Areas 1, 2, and 3, regardless of which Trustee Area they live in. Depending on the size of the Trustee Area, there will be 1 or 2 seats up for election in each Trustee Area, so voters will get to vote for 1 or 2 candidates in each Trustee Area. The ballot pamphlet, and actual ballot, will specify for voters exactly how many candidates to vote for in each Trustee Area."
"can you vote on all districts or just your own school district "
"I was wondering if a board member has to be at most/all meetings? What if a board member has there address here, but is living over half of the year in another state which means not attending meetings? How are things decided on if not all members are attending?"
"All: Why is it that school boards seemingly across the nation permit the administrators to( ad nausum)permit/encourage FAILURE to be the new standard of high academic achievement? Annually, they support those charged with education to continue to fail. Superintendents are never removed for gross failure. Boards look the other way, or dimiss public disapproval. Boards are one of the central reasons why failure in the schools is the 'new norm.' They have removed shame from the student body( anything goes)and with that cover, they are shameless about their enabling incompetence. Their collecive bumbling is considered a job well done!!!"
"Do all school board members have to be a resident of the district, and if so, what do you do if you know that a member does NOT reside in the district? "
" I appreciated the good information included in this article. Board members need to follow all laws state and federal. They should know the regulations of governance such as the Brown Act, Ed. Codes and honor federal laws which guarantee Freedom of Speech in Open Session. The time for public commentary can include criticism of Board policy in open session. ( Baca Vs. Moreno Valley School Board ). Community service does not have to be a thankless job. Community, parents and students appreciate the dedication school boards members demonstrate when they actively form partnerships and coalitions with all stakeholders. Board members if you haven't been thanked lately, perhaps you are not meeting the needs of the community you were elected to serve. On the other hand,board members who advocate for educational equity are community leaders and they most definitely MERIT community respect. "
"Thanks you for the information in this article. I am not a political person but I have found the need to start getting involved in politics. I live in Mobile, Alabama and the school board has cut hundrends of jobs due to no funds. This week is our primary election for state school board candidates and I needed to know what to look for in the candidates. The article helped so much, thanks again."
"Hello, I am running for School Board in my community. I agree with your candidate qualities and my hope is that I am able to fit each criteria to the best of my ability. I love the teachers that teach my children and my children love them also. I desire to serve the children and the families that live in my community."
"Thanks for an article that can be a very valuable tool for the public who sometimes misunderstands the role of a school board member. Its content matches the governance training and Governance Standards of the California School Boards Assn. whose mission includes teaching us to be good at the governance of our public schools. I take exception to the 'rubber stamp' comment. The board meeting itself is to conduct the official business of the board and is not the time for the hours of staff or committee work (involving all stakeholders) that has preceded additional public input and the actual votes at the meeting. Nor is it a time for us to make lengthy speeches. If a board is doing its job, background reading and clarification questions make a school board meeting run efficiently. "
"Great school board leaders set a clear vision based on real knowledge of education (does the candidate have education-related experience?); they ensure that the vision is executed by the Superintendent without meddling in the details (does the candidate have management-related experience?); they live up to the obligations of the law (does the candidate have Governance-related experience?); and -- this is important -- they faithfully represent the interests of students and parents in their role as the negotiating counterparty to the union in contract negotiations. Board members who aspire to higher office hesitate to push the teachers union because union allies can be very valuable in future campaigns. (Is this candidate really committed to the kids, or is this a stepping-stone?) "
"This is a very good article! "