For months, you’ve contemplated how you can impact education.
After all, you’re passionate about your local community. You’ve decided that the students in your school district are undeniably your top priority.
Perhaps you should run for the school board? Over the years, you’ve helped out in a few local campaigns in your area. The school board offers you the best chance to make the difference you desperately want to make.
But now, you have a million and one questions. Am I qualified? Do I need to have children going to school in the district? I don’t have any political experience—is that a problem? Will I have to quit my day job?
The looming uncertainties might tempt you to drop the whole idea.
Fortunately, your plan might not be as scary as you think. While there are some details to consider, myths about running for school board abound. It’s time to do some debunking!
“School board members essentially act as a school district’s jury for determining the verdicts on proposals, and naturally, those who are appointed to this jury are expected to be both educated and have a genuine interest in education as a topic to discuss,” says Best Value Schools.
As elected members, the school board should keep the community informed about any changes or progress in the school. They need to be held accountable to the public because they represent the community’s voice. More importantly, they are advocating for parents and students.
It’s a good idea to understand the job description before jumping in. Now that you’ve got the basics, let’s start that debunking.
Myth #1: School board members have to have education experience
Yes—school board members should have at least a working idea of the education process. Best Value Schools has an opinion on this: “Rather than requiring board members to have a degree in education or school administration, it is of a higher priority for board members to be well-read on the latest national discussions, contemporary practices and emerging theories in the educator community. Even without a degree, all board members are expected to be both passionate and well-studied in the concept of education and ways that it can be reformed to optimize positive student outcomes.”
If you’re interested in running for the school board, you’re already acting on a passion for your district’s education. You don’t need educational experience or a fancy degree to do this job! Brush up on the latest education hot topics and make sure you have a grasp on the current education climate, and you’re ready to get started.
Myth #2: You have to be a politician to run for office
Because a school board seat is technically a political office, it might be tempting to think only politicians can run. While having a working knowledge of some politics might be helpful, it’s certainly not necessary.
Parents Defending Education suggests that average citizens are good candidates. “The talents and insights of parents committed to great outcomes for children are invaluable attributes when compared to those who run for school board seats to promote a political or ideological agenda in classrooms or to jump-start a political career.”
The bottom line is that almost anyone can run for school board, no matter how political or non-political they are! At the end of the day, the best politicians are just ordinary citizens who want to make a difference. If you’re running for school board, that sounds like you!
Myth #3: Parents are too close to the issues to make good school board members
Stop and think for a moment. The best candidate for any job has the highest stakes in the game. If you’re educating your children in the same district you’re running in, then who better to help guide the educational climate?
Parents make tremendous school board members because they care about the kids, not about their own agenda.
Running for School Board assures us that the bigger picture is what counts. “Above all, members can join together and work with others – parents, teacher, district staff, and local legislature – to achieve success. It doesn’t matter if you live in an urban or rural district, there is always a need for talented and caring members.”
Myth #4: I don’t have any kids/grandkids in the local school district, so school board issues don’t apply to me
Yes, there are specific criteria a school board candidate must meet to be eligible to run. However, none of the requirements include being related to kids in your district.
The Edmonton Journal points out that “A community of well-educated, well-adjusted kids is a universal social good. Maybe you’ll never have children. Maybe your children have graduated. Schools still belong to us all.”
Becoming a school board member means that you can advocate for all students in your district. Shared Justice notes that even those without children in the district schools “…can advocate for policies and practices that honor the dignity of every student and family in our communities.”
Education affects the prosperity of the entire district, regardless of who has children and who doesn’t. The educational climate creates the community’s atmosphere. If you don’t have kids or grandkids in your local school district, don’t give up the idea of running for school board.
Myth #5: Running for school board always takes a lot of money
Online Candidate has good news: “Running for school board is a bit different than running for other local offices. Campaign spending is generally less, and most campaigning is usually performed only a few weeks before election day.”
If you’re new to politics, the idea of funding is daunting. How much do you need? Should you get donors? How do you conduct a fundraiser?
Thankfully, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. The Michigan Association of School Boards points out, “Every campaign will fund their efforts differently. Some campaigns are fully self-funded, while others may be grassroots-funded by others.”
You can choose the best route for you! Depending on the district, campaigns can cost from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. A large portion of your costs will come from spreading the word about your platform. Advertising expenses include the cost of yard signs, brochures, mailings, and digital formats like online ads.
It’s a campaign, so a budget and some costs are involved. Generally, when you think “campaign,” a large dollar sign and expensive advertising come to mind. Remember that a school board campaign is much smaller and cheaper than most.
Myth #6: There are plenty of people running for school board. What chance do I have?
Honestly, school board elections are vitally important. Local school boards are the front lines of educational policy and application. This is where leadership happens and decisions are made.
Shockingly, only 5%-10% of voters generally choose to vote in school board elections, according to the National School Boards Association. Even more shocking is that unopposed candidates win as many as 4 out of 10 school board elections. School Board elections are notoriously undervoted, and they aren’t the most popular political office to be targeted by candidates, either.
If you are passionate about going to bat for the schools in your district, don’t let the competition keep you from making a difference!
Myth #7: There are a lot of eligibility requirements to be a school board member
You have to meet certain requirements to be a school board member, but they are pretty basic. Diligent gives a quick rundown on common qualifiers:
- Be a registered voter
- Be a resident of the school district
- Have a high school diploma
- Not have a felony conviction
- Not a current employee nor a relative of an employee in the district
Requirements to run for school board vary by state and district. You can find your state’s requirements online by typing your state and the word ‘election’ into a search engine. State sites listing election requirements will likely end with a “.gov” and look something like this: https://www.elections.virginia.gov/index.html.
Myth #8: I can’t work full time and be a school board member
Being a school board member isn’t the same thing as working a job, but it might require a lot from you, depending on the district. NPR published an article titled, “School Boards: A Part-Time Job With Full-Time Duties?” and that about sums it up in the bigger districts. However, in smaller districts, it’s a much lighter load.
Depending on the district, some school boards pay their members a light salary, but most school board members across the country volunteer their time without compensation. Serving on the school board won’t make you rich; even if you’re lucky enough to live in a paying district, your salary probably won’t be enough to make ends meet in most cases.
Most school board members can work their day job and fulfill their community calling in their off time. GreatSchools.org explains that if you’re in one of the country’s bigger districts, you might have trouble juggling, but you’re probably paid enough to compensate, too. For the rest of the country, it’s an average volunteer position that should not conflict with your normal 9-5.
With these myths busted, now you have a clearer path to serving your community!
The school board is a vital, but often underappreciated job. Everyday citizens who understand the needs and challenges of adulthood and truly care about local students are the perfect candidates to successfully transform America’s schools.
To learn more about running for school board, check out NWEF’s free online course Introduction to School Boards to get you started!