Thinking Outside the Box

There are many different ways that a school board can improve the education system for both students and teachers. As a concerned citizen who pays taxes and realizes that many of tomorrow’s leaders are being educated today, you have a vested interest in holding your school board accountable and being an advocate for issues that will increase the quality of the education in your local public schools. Take a creative approach to looking for solutions to some of the problems school boards often face. Here’s a list of possibilities to consider:

Shift the date of school board elections – Many states hold school board elections separate from the general election, usually in the spring. This contributes to the notoriously low voter turnout—sometimes below 15 or even 10 percent—that has plagued school-board elections for years. Consequently, special interest groups who take an active interest in board elections, such as teacher unions, have a disproportionate impact on elections. Some states have launched initiatives to shift the date of school board elections to coincide with the November general election, and several of these have succeeded.

Investigate the contracting out of non-instructional services – In some cases, a school district can save hundreds of dollars per student by outsourcing school support services. While a school board should do adequate research upfront to determine the true value of outsourcing a particular service, this option should always be on the table.

Take an active approach to curriculum – Curriculum is locally controlled in some states, giving the school board legal authority over what is used in the classroom. Take an active interest in the materials your students are learning from. Look at the data for your district and state. Where do students need to improve? What are they not being taught that they would benefit from (for example, certain kinds of vocational training)? Are they being offered the most effective curricula? School boards can have great influence in these decisions.

Give alternative teacher organizations access to your district – There are a growing number of associations offering teachers an alternative to union membership. The Association of American Educators (AAE), for instance, provides its members with liability insurance, legal protection, certification assistance, teacher scholarships and classroom grants, and resources for professional development. Members agree to a code of ethics that delineates expected professional conduct. School boards should be open to such alternative teacher associations and allow them the same access to district communication channels that unions have.

Encourage online transparency for the school district – One of the needs in reforming the education system is financial transparency and a basic accounting for every dollar spent by the local district. School districts should create solid line-item budgets and make them available online, along with the school district check register. The taxpayers who fund the system have a right to know how their dollars are being spent.

Run for School Board – If you are involved in your community and have an interest in seeing the public school system do the very best it can for the students it serves, you should consider running for a seat on the school board. School board elections are often low-turnout and low-budget, and they are a great way to bring new people into the local political system while having a big impact. Whether or not you have ever even been involved in a political campaign, there are plenty of resources and training materials available through American Majority and other like-minded organizations that can help you get started.

Encourage community involvement – As you serve on the school board, talk to your neighbors, to parents, to local business owners. Encourage newspaper and television journalists to cover your meetings; be willing to grant interviews; keep the public informed on Board actions when appropriate. Get the community interested and involved in providing the best education for their children at the best value.