FEW times of the year are more rushed or hectic than the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But something really important happens in that time period that shouldn't be lost: Oklahomans in hundreds of school and career-technology districts across the state have the opportunity to run for board seats.
The filing period for open seats is Dec. 3-5 at the county election board in which the district is located. The election is Feb. 12, with a runoff on April 2 if necessary. In Oklahoma City, three seats are up for grabs, including the board chairman post. Dozens of seats are up in other metro-area districts.
As political panache goes, school board membership doesn't rank very high. It's not glamorous. Monthly or twice-monthly meetings typically aren't well attended outside of school staff. Board members are paid only $25 a meeting and the posts aren't often a launching pad to higher office. But here's one very important reason to consider running for a school board position: the students.
Public education is under tremendous pressure. Federal and state budget squeezes, coupled with the unprecedented slate of reforms rolling out in schools, make this a critically important time for schools — and local school boards. No group is as capable of advocating for and protecting the interest of students as local school officials, including board members.
But even beyond big-picture education reforms, school board members have a tremendous amount of influence over day-to-day goings-on at schools. From dress codes to budgets, board members set policy on a variety of issues.
School boards, in their chief duty of hiring and overseeing the superintendent, also set the tone for the school district. Do they spend their time focused on the ways they can support student achievement and carry that focus at every possible opportunity into the community? Do they demand or foster a culture of community engagement? Do they behave in a way that engenders trust and exemplifies transparency? Do they ask hard questions about what's happening in the district's schools and insist on answers? Do they talk with educators and listen to understand how policy plays out in the classroom?
Perhaps the most common misstep for a school board is forgetting that it is the boss of the superintendent — not the other way around. Lax or no oversight of the superintendent has landed many a school board in hot water in recent years.
Of course, the attentiveness of a school board depends largely on the candidates who run for open seats and the voters who go to the polls. The latter has gained attention at the Legislature in the past year.
The focus has been on whether moving the election date would generate better turnout. It's an idea worthy of continued discussion, but it ignores the challenging issue of attracting quality candidates and the value of political contests that ask and encourage voters to engage in the issues.
As the filing period draws near, we're hopeful a bevy of qualified candidates will step up and pursue open school board seats across the state. Students and taxpayers need representatives and advocates committed to the hard work of serving on a school board at a time when their role is vital.