Rawlins Head Shot

Why you need to vote for School Boards

In this, my last Chair’s message related to the May 6 non-partisan elections, I offer some reasons why you should vote for your local school board, the Collin College Board of Trustees, and related bond elections. And again, before we look at individual cities let’s take a look at what local school boards do. Again, most people aren’t real sure.

But before I get into the details, let me say that for families with children – and especially families with children who have special needs or exceptional abilities – quality schools are a very personal issue. And all of us should be concerned. Quality schools are a major reason that companies decide to locate in our cities, bringing jobs and economic development. The small price we pay in taxes is almost always offset by increased property values and general prosperity.

In Texas the state legislature sets the major policies and spending for education. The State Board of Education, whose members are elected in the even-year general elections, determines curriculum standards, selects text books, and establishes graduation requirements. So, with most of the major decisions being made at the state level (and that’s why you need to pay special attention to who you vote for in those even-year elections!), what’s left for your local school board to do?

Within the framework of minimum standards established at the state level, there’s actually quite a bit they’re responsible for:

  • Hire and evaluate the superintendent
  • Adopt a budget and set a local tax rate
  • Adopt local policies

With the authority to develop a budget comes the authority to set teacher salaries and class sizes. This can, of course, have a huge impact on teacher quality and retention. This also gives them the authority to set coach’s salaries, a big thing in Texas depending on whether you favor sports or academics. It can also mean whether your schools support education in the arts and history, as opposed to emphasizing just the academic minimums required by the state and spending the rest on competitive sports. It can mean whether your board issues bonds for new school construction, big new football stadiums, both, or neither. It can determine whether or not children have full-day Pre-K education. Your local school board also determines how much money will be spent on college preparatory classes versus preparing students to pursue skilled trades that don’t require a college degree. Finally, your local board has a big say in how well students with special needs are accommodated.

From a financial perspective, the board’s ability to set your tax rate has a direct impact on your pocketbook. While most people are willing to pay for good schools, it’s also very important to pay attention to how the money is spent. Is it spent more on schools and programs, or is it spent disproportionately on administrative staff?

And the ability to set local policies gives school boards the ability to set aside resources and develop district-wide policies that are unique to local situations. For example, districts can set aside rooms for students’ religious practices (so long as all have access). They can set local policies on bullying, and at least for now can decide for themselves how to accommodate transgender students.

I’m sure that the people who live in the different districts, especially those who have children in them, know things I don’t. But as I look at the school board races in different cities across the county there aren’t as many unique situations as there appear to be for city councils. Everyone running wants good public schools. The differences mainly seem to be in the qualifications of people running for the boards, past performance, and the trade-offs between taxes and better schools.

Unfortunately, on both sides of the political spectrum school boards seem too often to be a stepping stone for people seeking higher office. A lot of those running have no particular qualifications or background other than being a parent, and many speak in political and ideological generalities rather than addressing the specific needs and direction of local schools. In particular, on the conservative and Tea Party side – high tax rates, Common Core, and teaching “creation science” seem to be the platforms of way too many people who don’t have anything else solid to run on.

That said, there is one local issue that caught my attention. Call me a non-fan of football if you want, but the Allen ISD spending $60 million on a new football stadium seems just a bit out of proportion with the educational mission of the district. Further, finding out there were problems with the both the design and the construction raise questions about whether or not appropriate oversight was being conducted.

Finally, Collin College (formerly Collin County Community College, for those of us who have lived here long enough) is one of the great assets of the county. It provides freshman and sophomore level courses locally for those seeking four year degrees, plus ongoing education for adults. The main challenge for the college is how it prepares for the increasing population of the county and changing lifestyles. One of the things on the ballot May 6 will be a bond to finance the college’s expansion plan. I encourage you to vote for it.

In conclusion, if you read my previous two messages you should now understand how these non-partisan elections are different, and why you should vote for your city council and school board. I hope you will join me in educating yourself on the issues and the candidates, and be sure to vote. Early voting runs April 24 through May 2 (except April 30), and Election Day is May 6. You can find more information on voting at Collin County Elections.  And watch for our Voter’s Guide next week!