Idaho is currently in election season, so it’s a prime time to take an in-depth look at why local elections are so important and how they impact communities. We’ve compiled six reasons you should care about and participate in your local school board elections.
- School Board Elections Have a Direct Impact on Students
School board members have a significant impact on students, and thus, communities. They set the school calendar, establish student achievement goals, adopt the school’s policies, position professional development targets of educators, and set the school budget. In a lot of ways, your school board trustee is perhaps one of the most important positions you can vote for – yet, only about 20% or less of electors participate in contested trustee races.
- Public Schools are the Foundation of Local Government
In Idaho, a school trustee is one of the most accessible examples of government that a constituent can engage with, and it matters for our collective future. Idaho’s 115 school districts are governed by volunteer trustees who hire and evaluate the superintendent – who, together, set the stage and direction for how each school district functions and operates. Each board’s five to seven (or sometimes three) unpaid members serve four-year terms and run for re-election on a staggered basis. School trustees also must reside within specific zones – making them accessible to their neighbors on issues impacting their local public schools and community.
- The Quality of the Board Determines the Quality of the School
A highly effective school is typically governed by a well-trained school board. However, school board members are given tremendous and daunting responsibilities during their terms of governance. Due to these obligations, it stands to reason that elected school board members should commit themselves to receiving professional development to assist them in conducting school business. In a 2019 poll completed by Michigan Association of School Boards, survey respondents said two-thirds of the electors would be more likely to vote for a potential board member who has received training and three-fourths said they had more confidence in the decision-making ability of the school board if members had received appropriate training for the job.
- The COVID-19 Pandemic Showed How Emergency Response is Crucial
School boards came under the laser focus of their communities because they were delegated the task of determining whether learning would be remote, hybrid, or in person. They were also tasked with deciding the health and safety measures for the staff and students within the school district. One positive sparkle in the pandemic was how often the public attended school board meetings – something that trustees had sought for decades. Now, many boards have continued offering the public video access to their public meetings.
- Your School Boards are Stewards of Schools’ Budgets
Idaho’s public school system takes up nearly half of the State’s general fund budget, and each traditional school district has the authority to place tax levies on the ballot for voters to approve or disapprove. It can be rather surprising to think how much oversight a school board – made up of elected volunteers – has over your school district budget. As an elector, we want to find individuals who are fiscally responsible to reliably control the purse strings and make strategic investments into the children in our communities.
- It’s up to Electors to Evaluate School Board Candidates
All public-school employees – from teachers, to classified employees, to administrators – receive a yearly performance evaluation. For elected school board members and candidates, the evaluation is the direct responsibility of the electors. Even if people are motivated to vote, they may not recognize any of the names on the ballot – especially for such small, local races such as school board candidates. Visiting your school board meetings, attending candidate forums, or doing research on candidates is equally important for these races as it is for your choice for United States President.
Trustee elections in Idaho are held in November of odd-numbered years, coinciding with other non-partisan races such as city council. Partisan local election races are held in even-numbered years. The upcoming cycle in 2023 will be the first election under recently “re-drawn” zones following the decennial census. We encourage you to do significant research on school board races – and step up to serve if you can. Many trustee zone elections go with no interested candidates and must be appointed.