Here in the South we love electing people, or at least we say we do (you wouldn’t know it by the consistently low voter turnout percentage).
I’m not one who believes we should be electing every governmental position from dog catcher to governor; some elected positions would be better suited as appointed jobs or even, dare I say, abolished.
However, I do believe there are certain positions the people of our great state deserve to elect given the direct impact they have on our daily lives.
School board members are just such a group.
State Sen. Tony Smith (R-Picayune) actively promoted a bill during the 2013 legislative session aimed at electing all school board members and appointing all superintendents. Not surprisingly it died given the enormity of the idea, but thankfully there’s hope for 2014.
School board members are tasked with a tremendous job if handled correctly. Besides being responsible for the care and education of your children (as if that wasn’t enough), often a school district is the largest taxing district within a county, overseeing millions of your tax dollars everyday, deciding where and how to spend the resources afforded them through millage.
School districts are also often times one of the county’s largest employers, making them a major player in the economic health of your community. School board members are responsible for these hirings and must approve and appropriate funds as such.
The health and success of a school district plays a major role in a community’s ability to attract and retain both businesses and residents making them a leading, necessary player in economic development initiatives.
School board members must act as employers, marketers, economic developers, budget hawks and advocates, while also being a representative of the community’s interests. Quite a large task, indeed.
But shielding school board members from the public through appointment isn’t the answer; it breeds complacency and allows for the same, stale leadership we have seen in our education system for decades, and our children are worse for it.
Allowing city councils or boards of aldermen to appoint school board members has become a joke in many communities around Mississippi. It is quite often a rubber stamp handshake appointment with little thought as to the direction and needs of the school system these community representatives serve. It’s the good ole boy system at its worst.
School superintendents know that if they can get a majority of members on the school board to drink the Kool-aid they can do whatever they please, which is why you have superintendents around the state involving themselves in political matters instead of a school district’s school board being the political voice as it is designed.
The tail is wagging the dog. Your representatives are not doing their jobs. There is no real accountability between the school board and the superintendent because the superintendent is running the show while the board sits backs and watches.
I’ve seen firsthand superintendents openly campaign for school board members to be reappointed by city officials, going so far as to provide questions and materials to city council members during interviews so their choice of a candidate up for appointment gets a favorable wink and nod back on the school board.
No, holding an election will not solve every instance of back door politics on our school boards nor will it always prevent the ruling elite in local communities from putting their picks in the races and actively advocating for their election. But given the current alternative I would much rather place our children’s educational futures in the hands of concerned parents and voters than I would the local special interests that control many of our city halls.
Parents and voters deserve a say in their education system, especially given the huge role our school districts play in the life of our communities, and it shouldn’t be funneled through a city council.
The ballot box remains the only tangible means of effecting change in our American system of government. It’s time we stood up against taxation with indirect representation and demand a direct voice on our school boards across Mississippi.
And who knows, the shakeup may be just what the doctor ordered, helping to improve our struggling education system by returning a little power to the people.