Buried deep in the ballot coming to you in a few weeks will be school board elections. Don’t be misled by that placement or by the many who belittle that job as of little consequence.
Even the smallest entity, be it county or district, is challenging. A district like Fresno Unified is at the top of complexity. Yet, we have so many who think it is just a nice little way of getting their name up-front to move on to so-called bigger and better political positions. Certainly in our area, few have successfully moved on but that is another story for another time.
If we expect to have that best education for our children’s future, and that of the society, we must pay close attention to the candidates on our ballot. We really should give the public schools more status because all too often resources are allocated by status. Fresno Unified has three positions in this election. Surrounding districts, as well as the Fresno County Board, also have elections.
Voters would do well to give serious consideration before casting their votes. The knowledge and character of incumbents and newcomers should be considered. Attend candidate forums. Question would-be members.
Does s/he understand how much time is required? How acquainted is s/he with the current operation? Has s/he prepared by attending meetings regularly? Does s/he have the time to visit various school sites and the behind-the-scenes operations such as the maintenance yard or the food preparation? Does s/he truly have a full picture of the responsibility for the entire operation? Will her/his personal financial resources allow functioning within the limited remuneration? Is s/he open minded?
Question candidates about his/her prior community service: Sufficient overview of the whole understanding the primary responsibility representing a given area as part of a bigger entity with students crossing borders to accommodate a particular need?
In this complicated world, all political bodies have complex financial sources but nowhere is that more true than with our public schools. Because creativity can take one only so far, it is necessary to understand the finances of the district. At the risk of sounding cynical, I will point out that he who understands the finance wields the power—not for power’s sake but for best use of the district’s current and long-term health. There will never be enough money to cover all needs, so constant vigilance is necessary to be sure it is being used properly, legally and morally.
Boardsmanship demands acceptance that power comes as part of the body, not the individual; meetings require preparation; arguments are presented in the meeting; board decisions are accepted as belonging to you regardless of how you voted; rules of the body are to be adhered to; and board and professional colleagues are due courtesy.
It is too late to become a candidate for these ever-so-important positions, but it is not too late to be a responsible voter in this and other matters.
Ruth Gadebusch is a community activist, a veteran, a former member of the Fresno Unified School Board and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, and an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Civic Education.