Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Do We Trust Kansas Voters? (Reading between the lines.)

Last year there was legislation proposed that would have changed school board elections in three ways:
  • Elections would be partisan and subject to party election rules (limiting voter participation in primaries).
  • Elections would be held in the fall.
  • Elections would be in even years in conjunction with national elections.
200 out of 286 school boards passed resolutions against these positions and many others expressed dissent. No school board member testified in favor of all three of these provisions.  In the end, a compromise position moving elections to the fall of odd numbered years passed.

Proponents of the changes argued that turnout is too low in school board elections. Opponents pointed out the focus on local elections and asked if other solutions to the turnout question could be tried.

Looking back, I wonder if the message of proponents is really that the wrong people are voting in school board elections.  Locally elected school board members are focused on improving student success.  Legislators have to be concerned with that issue, and many other social and fiscal issues.  This can cause conflicts between locally elected board members and legislators.  These conflicts should be addressed through respectful discussions, not by trying to change who votes.

Now we have a survey going out to board members about conflicts of interest.  When a bill came up on the subject last year, there was one proponent. What is the underlying message of this survey? We have the wrong people serving on school boards? Board members must think the way they do because they are influenced by having a relative in the profession or a business interest in schools?

KASB is encouraging board members to take the time to fill out and return this survey.  As you answer the questions, please take the time to ask why these questions are being asked.

Does the fact that your brother drives a school bus in Leoti affect your ability to make decisions in the best interest of the students of Lawrence? The legislation that was introduced last year would have restricted anyone who has a relative who works for KSDE or ANY Kansas school district from serving on their local school board.

Perhaps I am paranoid, but I hear two messages in these attempts to change the rules:
1. The wrong people are voting in school board elections.
2. The wrong people are running in school board elections.

Instead of changing the rules, let's change tack and have an honest conversation about why we seem to disagree on some key educational issues. The Kansas State Board of Education and Commissioner Randy Watson have started this process by holding a statewide conversation about what we want for our children.  Let's all participate in this valuable discussion instead of trying to change the rules about who sits at the table.

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