School board elections are being held across Iowa today. Here's why you should get out and vote.
1. Everyone should support strong educational standards in our schools and competent management of the school district's affairs, whether or not you have kids in school or will have in the future.
2. Your vote is more likely to make a difference in a low-turnout school board election. Many of these races will be decided by a handful of votes.
You should vote even if your school board election is a snoozer, with only as many registered candidates as seats available. Extremely low turnout creates opportunities for fringe candidates to win seats on write-in campaigns.
3. Your property tax dollars are being spent in the local schools, whether or not you have kids. Homes in a good school district are often worth more than comparable homes in an area with lower-performing schools.
4. School board members vote on some issues that affect the broader economy and quality of life. For instance, property values in established neighborhoods and the ability of many kids to walk to school were harmed when school boards closed Roosevelt Elementary in Ames a few years ago and voted this year to close Roosevelt Elementary in Iowa City.
Iowa school boards will be less constrained in making decisions on school closures going forward. This summer, the Iowa Supreme Court invalidated the Barker rules on school closure procedures that the State Board of Education adopted more than 30 years ago. That ruling simultaneously rejected the lawsuit of parents challenging the Des Moines school board's decision a few years ago to close several schools. Click here for the Iowa Supreme Court ruling (pdf file).
5. Iowans will have almost no legal recourse against future decisions by school boards, thanks to a law the Iowa legislature adopted during the 2009 session. House File 233 was a below-the-radar bill that unanimously passed both the House and Senate. It changed the rules so that citizens have only ten days (as opposed to the 12 months previously allowed) to file a lawsuit challenging a school board's decision on disposition of property.
For all practical purposes, it is impossible to find plaintiffs, hire legal counsel, draft arguments and file a complaint in ten days. It's disappointing that a bill limiting legal checks on a school board's actions passed with so little public debate. Despite following the news during the legislative session closely, I would never have heard about this bill if not for a panel discussion at the 1000 Friends of Iowa annual meeting in July.
House File 233 makes it all the more important for citizens to choose their school board members wisely. Abuses of power can happen, and there's no guarantee school boards will always comply with the law. For instance, Spirit Lake school board members "met illegally twice in 2007 and 2008" and were fined by a judge this year. Amazingly, no challengers filed to run against two of the incumbents involved.
If you're reading this post at work, it should only take you a few minutes to vote on the way home today. Or, if you're reading this at home, zip out to vote before or after dinner.
Your local newspaper probably has published short bios of the candidates. For those in central Iowa, these nine candidates are seeking four spots on the Des Moines school board, and here's a list of candidates in other Des Moines-area districts. John Deeth has been covering the Iowa City school board campaign at his blog.
Sometimes it can be hard to figure out what the candidates stand for based on news reports or vague campaign mailings. If you aren't sure how to vote, ask a friend who has attended a candidate forum or has been following the school board campaign closely. (Teachers and retired teachers can be good sources of information.) Many of my well-informed friends speak highly of Des Moines school board candidate Margaret Buckton, for instance.
Please post any comments about education or school board elections in this thread.