Monday, June 4, 2012

School Board Reelection

Three years ago, when I first ran for the local school board, I was one of two people running for two seats.  The campaign was easy and winning was never in question. My total expenses for that campaign consisted of one first class postage stamp. Three years later, I debated long and hard whether I should run for another term.  What finally convinced me to run for reelection was that we are in a critical time for public education and I felt I could make a positive difference.  A property tax cap, increasing unfunded government mandates, an overemphasis on testing, a flawed evaluation system for teachers all come together to create an environment where public education is under attack and I’m not willing to sit on the sidelines and just watch it happen.  I need to be involved.  I have very strong qualifications and I want to make sure that the enormous benefits of education receive at least as much attention as the cost of education.

This election was very different for me from the initial stages to the conclusion.  The summary is easy to give: there were three qualified individuals running for two seats and I was reelected and received more votes than either of the other two candidates.  At the initial stage of the campaign I was advised that having lawn signs was a key part of the outreach for a local election.  I have never been a fan of lawn signs or signs stapled to utility poles.  I find them to be visual pollution.  So before I made my decision on having or not having lawn signs, I asked a very knowledgeable journalist, who had covered school boards for a major newspaper for a decade, what she thought.  Her response was very immediate, direct and clear.  If you want to win, you will distribute lawn signs.  I immediately ordered the signs.  What happened next surprised me.  A comment was made by a member of the community at a subsequent school board meeting that I was unable to attend, that lawn signs could be construed as bullying.  It took me a moment to think about the comment after I heard it second hand but my reaction at that time, and my reaction today is identical.  Bullying is a very serious matter and to compare a lawn sign to bullying is to trivialize what is an important concern in many, many schools.

I loved Meet the Candidates night. It provided an excellent opportunity to address all the key issues and all the candidates focused their articulate remarks on these issues.  I felt completely comfortable throughout the evening:  I was not only aware of all the issues raised but more importantly I had given a significant amount of thought to each of these issues.  When I wrapped up my remarks, I also endorsed one of the two other candidates and asked the audience to vote for her in addition to voting for me.  I felt this candidate was not only qualified (as was the other candidate) but that her views were more closely aligned to mine in regard to significant issues such tracking (which I oppose), over testing (which I oppose) etc. There were some interesting subsequent reactions – first and foremost that a sitting board member shouldn’t endorse another candidate for an open position.  And here I strenuously disagree.  Being a member on a school board does not and should not require me to give up my first amendment rights of free speech.  It is common practice and expected that elected officials (with very limited and very specific exceptions such as judges) endorse other candidates.  The school board should not, as a body, endorse any candidate just as Congress shouldn’t endorse any candidate and just as the local or state legislature shouldn’t endorse a candidate. But individuals can and do and the grounds are typically what I mentioned above; the person being endorsed is more aligned and in sync with the philosophy of the person doing the endorsement.

My last comment is a concern that the cost of being a candidate, even a school board candidate, where the costs are very modest (lawn signs, banners, ads in local papers), will likely be significant enough to discourage very qualified candidates from running, especially in a difficult economic time such as this when so many individuals and families are hurting.  In more and more elections, the money you have and the money you are able to raise become key factors in the result.  In my opinion to get the best pool of candidates requires a much more level playing field when it comes to expenditures.  I still believe that candidates should be elected based on the merits and not the money.

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