It’s never too early to think about school board elections.
Yes, there is another election on tap in November. And yes, several other offices will contested in the 2023 consolidated municipal elections, like positions on library boards, fire protection districts and township land commissioners. But the specific focus here is on school boards for four reasons:
One, the statewide focus of this column rarely gives me a chance to focus on an individual district, although many interesting and important things happen on small levels. Two, the role of an elected school board member is virtually identical regardless of jurisdiction. And three, voters are far too frequently not presented with enough choices on the ballot.
Four – and this is the news hook – is last week the Illinois Association of School Boards published its current version of “How School Boards Work,” available as a five-page download or posted to iasb.com.
A lot of the information might come across as common sense, but every school board election cycle reveals candidates who don’t grasp the distinction between governance and management (in other words, what power the board actually holds) or fully understand the implications of open meetings laws.
This isn’t an attempt to shame candidates, but a suggestion that those interested in this particular area of public service might take time now, long before nomination petitions are due, to consider if school board work is a good fit. Furthermore, it’s not as if Illinois, with its many layers of government, is a simple nut to crack.
The state constitution created the Illinois State Board of Education, which appoints the state superintendent. The state board develops regulations to implement state laws. Then there are the Regional Offices of Education, which have elected superintendents, and are not to be confused with Intermediate Service Centers, though they were consolidated in 2015 to form the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools.
If you’re still swimming in that information, remember it gets worse when the agencies are referred to only by acronyms. But in the context of school board elections, it’s worth noting regional superintendent is the only office with legal authority to remove a sitting board member. Furthermore, the IASB isn’t a governmental entity, regulatory or oversight body, but a nonprofit provider of training and resources.
Ultimately, even if you don’t see yourself running for school board, taking time to familiarize yourself with the job of an individual member and full board, along with paying attention to meetings, budgets and other decisions, is a good strategy for being an informed voter.
Volunteer, elected school board members meet throughout the year, and we’d do well to pay them the attention too often reserved for state and federal officials.