Every student represents an opportunity to better our city and its future. Every vote in a school board election presents an opportunity to demonstrate our individual and collective commitment to helping students reach their potential. Oklahoma voters will go to the polls next Tuesday to choose members of their local school boards. The stakes are particularly high in Oklahoma City, with three seats on the ballot.
Oklahoma City Public Schools is the only district in the state where voters have the power to choose a chairman, a power that's relatively new. Cliff Hudson was the first board chairman. He twice ran unopposed. Former Mayor Kirk Humphreys served in an appointed capacity to complete the last year of Hudson's second term. The only contested board chair election occurred four years ago, when former state Sen. Angela Monson unseated Humphreys.
Central to Oklahoma City's progress and celebrated renaissance is the health of its schools. More than 137,000 are eligible to vote in Oklahoma City Public Schools' board elections. Yet in the last election for Oklahoma City School Board chair, only about 11,200 people — or 8 percent of eligible voters — cast a ballot. As a city, we can do better. We must do better.
This year, local business owner Lynne Hardin is challenging Monson in the chairman's race. Bob Hammack and E. Jann Maultsby are contesting the District 1 seat. District 2 incumbent Gail Vines has endorsed her opponent, Justin Ellis, even as her name remains on the ballot. The last time the seats for Districts 1 and 2 were contested, fewer than 10 percent of eligible voters cast a vote.
School board service certainly isn't glamorous. It's tough and often thankless, but done well can make a world of difference. In Oklahoma City, the school board oversees an operating budget of more than $300 million. It's responsible for the academic well-being of 45,000 students. In short, the school board shapes the future of our city. This is not a small job to be done by people chosen by a small number of voters. Given the role Oklahoma's largest school district can play in propelling or holding back the city and even the state, the crowds at polling locations should resemble rush-hour traffic.
The Foundation for Oklahoma City School Public Schools surveyed each candidate on a variety of issues. Their responses are available at www.okckids.com. Please spend at least a few minutes getting to know the candidates. Don't let the opportunity pass on Tuesday to speak up for the children by making your vote an investment in their success.
Tolbert is chairman of the board, and Dickinson is president and CEO, of The Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools.