School Board elections vital

Friday, August 28, 2009

On Tuesday, Sept. 8, Iowans will head to the polls in 361 school districts across the state to vote for the men and women who will collectively affect Iowa's education system.

The election this year holds more weight than tra ditional elections, because starting this year, the pub lic will elect their local school boards only every other year for longer, four-year terms; in some cases, a majority of seats will be open.

The Iowa Association of School Boards urges the public to make education a priority by paying atten tion to local campaigns and voting on Sept. 8.

While there is no "ideal" board member profile, the Iowa Association of School Boards suggests voters look for these basic characteristics in candidates in order to elect effective board members.

*They must have a laser-like focus on improving achievement for all students.

Many schools and states are setting higher expecta tions for student learning, and if Iowa wants to remain a leader in the public education system, improving achieve ment is key. As the local governance team, board members play an integral role in ensuring that each district is able to prioritize goals and plans for improvement around statewide efforts to improve Iowa public schools, such as the Iowa Core Curriculum initiative.

*They act with professionalism and integrity when monitoring district finances.

School boards are the fiscal stewards of taxpayer dollars. They provide important oversight to ensure the taxpayers' investments in education have the most impact for the least cost. Especially in the tight budget times that we face, it is critical that board members act responsibly in regard to finances.

*They understand the board's roles and responsi bilities.

Boards are elected to set policy and direction, not to run the districts themselves. Instead, the board ensures the district has competent management in the superintendent. An individual board member who attempts to do an administrator's job will get nowhere, eroding the progress of the district as a whole as it can send mixed messages to the district staff.

*They work well as a member of a team.

"No matter how committed or knowledgeable a per son is, if they can't work well within a team, they won't get much done. Look for board candidates who respect differing views, and who also understand that individual members have no authority outside the actions taken at the board meeting, by the board, acting as a corporate body. Candidates should also be good communicators and listeners, and act with fairness and consistency.

*They can commit the time and energy required to be effective.

Board members must have a commitment to public service, which requires hours of attending meetings, taking phone calls, listening to constituents and vis iting schools. They also must have time to invest in their own learning process when it comes to under standing societal and educational trends. Understanding the challenges many districts face means that most board members will have to attend workshops and seminars to expand their ability to serve more effectively.

(IASB is a private, nonprofit organization repre senting Iowa's 361 school districts, 10 area education agencies, and 15 community colleges.)