After a recent “meet the candidates” forum for one of the more than 125 school boards in Nassau County, the very people the candidates were soliciting votes from turned to social media to share their views.
Their verdict? Some of the “facts” the candidates shared were not facts at all. And at least a few of them came off as ill-prepared to answer even the most straightforward questions — all while seemingly lacking knowledge of a proposed budget that would spend tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.
It’s true, being a board trustee is not a paid position. Yet it is a volunteer post that comes with immense responsibility.
First and foremost, it is an elected position — one with a duty to represent the community, and serve as a watchdog to help ensure that those millions of dollars are spent properly to educate every young person who walks through the door of a district school.
“A school board member takes on one of the most important citizen responsibilities: overseeing the education of the community’s youth,” the New York State School Boards Association states on its website.
A school board is a “uniquely American institution,” the association adds, which is also how we describe our form of representative democracy. Both systems need educated people to serve as elected representatives, and an informed electorate to vote intelligently.
Just read any of the stories here in the Herald, and you can’t miss how politicized a lot of the banter has become. Mask mandates. Critical race theory. Gender. All have become hot topics, and have shifted conversations away from the usual budgets, capital improvements and administrative issues that typically dominate campaign stump speeches.
These issues have pushed more candidates into these races than we’ve seen in the past, but more often than not, these candidates are laser-focused on their favorite issues and not knowledgeable at all when it comes to what, exactly, their duties would be as a trustee.
The school boards association enumerates nearly a dozen main responsibilities someone elected to a board should focus on. They include creating a shared vision for the future of education while guiding the school district toward the goal of achieving optimum student performance.
Boards also must provide rigorous accountability for students’ results, and support a healthy school district culture centered on work and learning, all while maintaining strong ethical standards.
They must also develop a budget and present it to the community, which is what local school districts — yours included — are doing right now.
Boards of education should be filled with effective communicators, consensus builders and decision makers who are both community leaders and team players. Nassau County is blessed to have many such people qualified to take on the role of a trustee. They are elected or not elected for myriad reasons. However, voters should not have to consider whether candidates have enough information to articulate the issues and present accurate information.
The key is trust. The community is trusting you to point the school district in the right direction.
How does a trustee become informed?
Being involved in the school community is a good first step. Be part of a school’s parent association. Volunteer. Attend board meetings. Read — and even question — the information presented.
But knowledge isn’t just reserved for those running for office. It’s up to the voter — you — as well.
With the school budget, trustee and special propositions on the ballot on May 17, there are still a few days to become informed.
Whether you are stumping for or against your district’s budget, or just voting in the election, before casting your ballot, know the facts.