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Why Should You Care About School Board Elections

The following article was originally published by LD18. It is republished here with the author's permission.

School board elections are the latest victims of the culture wars.

Traditionally, they are nonpartisan, sleepy down-ballot races. Since the pandemic, however, they have been hijacked by anti-public education candidates who are supported by national and local political organizations. Look at what is happening right here in our backyard.

“Purple for Parents” is currently endorsing school board candidates across Arizona, specifically in the following Tucson school districts: Amphitheater, Marana, Catalina Foothills School District, Tanque Verde, Tucson & Vail.

Purple for Parents is an extreme political countermovement against Red for Ed, attacking public school funding and teacher pay in AZ, which ranks about 48th nationally for teacher pay. Purple for Parents is a spinoff of the Patriot Movement AZ, a group that “began by sharing racist memes and violent fantasies on Facebook and later, had members run for and win political positions across Arizona. P4P led a fight against K-12 comprehensive sex education, casting it as a conspiracy to persuade children to become gay, lesbian or transgender.”

It’s important to note that some police officials warn of potentially violent conflicts when P4P members attend school board meetings. One P4P protestor said at a rally in the spring of 2018 to the AZ Daily Star, “I know what red stands for…Red represented communism, and it still represents communism. Red for Ed means to me and to a lot of other people that communists are behind this movement using the power of teachers to fulfill their agenda.”

Public schools matter

So why should you care? Especially if you don’t currently have kids in public schools?

Quality schools drive people to move into and invest in the success of a community. “In many ways, you can argue that school board is perhaps the most important thing you can vote for,” says Mike Mikus, a Democratic strategist with Chartiers Group LLC. “How your community supports public education, how we support children, matters to our economy and our civil society. Our children prepare for the jobs of today, let alone the jobs of the future, and are they ready to take part in a democracy that requires citizen participation and civic responsibility?”

School boards are essentially a handful of elected volunteers in charge of multi-million-dollar budgets who respond to the needs of thousands of parents, guardians, and children. And all this while they adhere to state laws and a professional code of ethics.

It is a daunting task requiring a range of skills. Finance, law, ethics, consensus building, compromise. The list goes on. School board members need to be able to collaborate with all stakeholders, even those with whom they may personally disagree. They must be data savvy — using facts, not feelings — to create plans for quality education under budget shortfalls and bound by state law.

They must represent and be responsible for the education of all their students — that means students of all races, religions, abilities, gender identities, and in foster care. Finally, they must be able to empower teachers and administrators, not micro-manage them (especially during a national teacher shortage crisis).

Six questions for candidates

Given this tremendous power, ask the following questions when deciding for whom to vote:

  1. Do they believe in the importance of public education?

  2. Do they believe that every child deserves an outstanding education, no matter who the child is?

  3. Will the candidate be willing to work well with other board members to accomplish important tasks?

  4. Does the candidate understand that the board’s role is to provide oversight and accountability – not micro-manage the day-to-day operations?

  5. Do they understand that a national and local teacher shortage is a crisis? Do they realize that burdening teachers with aggressive new regulations or confrontational politicized parent complaints will worsen the shortage?

  6. Can they commit the considerable time and energy required for weekly meetings, phone calls, conversations, school visits, and professional development seminars and workshops?

“Healthy or dysfunctional, inspired or narrow-minded, school boards can make or break the quality of your local school system.”

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