Role of School Board Members During the Election Cycle

By Timi Tullis, AASB Associate Executive Director

This time of year comes with a lot of change. As we head back to school from our summer vacations, the long summer days turn into the shorter days of fall, full of colors and a crispness in the air. There is an excitement for the newness, AND we hope there is also the same excitement for newness on your Board.  Typically, 90% of the boards in Alaska look different after your local elections, as new members are voted into their role on the board team.  

What, if anything, should seated school board members do during the election cycle?

Here are a few suggestions:

Hold a work session for school board candidates.  A work session can help candidates learn first-hand from members of the Board about what it means to be on the Board.  Members can share the time commitment, the areas they find gratifying, and the stressful areas. Be open and honest and answer questions from each candidate.

Help coordinate a student-led forum.  Work with your civics class or student leadership group to set up a student-led forum. Include students in planning the forum. Students know what their hopes and dreams for their school are, and they are brutally honest and will ask candid questions.

Stay neutral with all candidates.  You will be on the same team with whoever wins the race. Suppose you are outwardly supportive of a candidate that does not succeed. In that case, you will be working with someone who already knows you did not prefer to work with them, typically leading to unnecessary challenges.  

Speak with any of the candidates that reach out to you.  Again, candidates may have questions about the role of a board member. Be open and honest about the responsivities of the job, and be sure to keep the conversation on issues, not people.  

Explain why you enjoy being on the Board.  If you only show frustration and resentment about being on the Board, that will translate to the other candidates. Focus on how you are part of making important decisions for ALL students and how school boards remain a nonpartisan elected position in our partisan world.  

Lastly, we have been asked “If a vacancy has occurred and the Board appoints a candidate to fill the vacant seat, is that appointment an endorsement of a specific candidate?”

The School Board is required to fill any vacancy on the Board in accordance with State Statute and Board Policy, and the appointment should not be viewed as an endorsement of any candidate. The Board should consider all the applicants for the vacancy and vote to appoint a person to fill the seat until the October election.