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More Than One Meeting A Month: Getting Civic-Minded Individuals to Run for School Board Seats

Greg Rokisky

By Greg Rokisky, MASB Assistant Director of Marketing

DashBoard, May 27, 2020

I’m writing this from my faux home office (also known as my kitchen table), where I’m self-quarantining and social distancing. As someone who doesn’t stay still for long, this has been challenging, but I’m happy to be doing my part for our local, state and global communities during this historic time. As I was searching for creative ways to help more, I remembered that through my work with MASB, I’m actually contributing to the greater good through a ripple effect. My small actions and day-to-day work reach beyond my kitchen table to help school boards provide access for students across the state to a public education.

Part of this work is on MASB’s main external-facing initiative, Get On Board, which aims to achieve two main goals. The first—educating the general public about what it means to be a school board member.

“It’s just one meeting a month, right; how hard can it be?”

Important 2020 Election Dates

Any steward of public education can quickly respond with the wealth of responsibilities that come with being a school board member—volunteering their time to do some of the hardest, yet arguably most important, work for a school district. The GOB campaign serves to amplify the job description and responsibilities of Michigan school board members.

Secondly, MASB leadership intends that, through the voice of the Get On Board campaign, more civic-minded individuals are self-motivated or encouraged to run for school board seats. This goes back to the inception of the GOB initiative when the Michigan Legislature shifted school board elections from May of every year to the general election in November every other year (in even years). When this change happened, there was a significant drop in seats being filed for across the state. In fact, in 2014 nearly 10% of the available open school board seats weren’t filed for at the time of the deadline. This didn’t mean that there was only one person running uncontested; it meant that there was not a single candidate for almost a tenth of the possible seats in Michigan. This was a problem.

Leaning Into Data to Guide Us

In aiming to address and resolve the problem, MASB first commissioned a survey through the Michigan polling firm EPIC-MRA that has been conducted every other year since the first one in 2015. This survey polls hundreds of general election voters in the state asking, “Which of the following best describes the main reason why you believe school boards are having an increasingly difficult time attracting qualified candidates to run for school board positions?” Leading the pack each year has been the answer that school boards are too political followed by the belief that people are apathetic and citizens who are simply unaware that running for a school board seat is even an option as a close third in 2019.

In addition to the above data, we also added a new question in 2017—“Which one of the following reasons would most likely motivate you to run for your local board of education?” Both in 2017 and 2019, the clear frontrunner was “Ensuring all kids have a quality education.”

Increasing the Ripple Effect

What can be done this year to help us achieve the two main goals? Well, if you had asked me two months ago, I would have had a slightly different answer for you. Given the far-reaching implications of the coronavirus pandemic, the “how” has changed slightly, but I believe the “what” is the same.

Education, Education, Education

The data clearly tells us that people are unaware, both with what a school board member is responsible for doing and how much time it takes, as well as being unfamiliar with the process of running for a school board seat. Therefore, we must all do our part to educate them on all facets.

MASB’S ROLE: We’ll be organizing a handful of town hall events that focus on providing answers on how to file to run; the general duties and responsibilities of school board members; the do’s and don’ts when it comes to campaigning; and offer the ability for interested citizens to ask and have questions answered in real-time. If we’re not able to hold these events in person, we’ll be moving them into the virtual/teleconferencing space. You can find a list of these events on the GOB website, getonboardmi.masb.org.

YOUR ROLE: If we only talk to you and vice versa, we exist in a small echo chamber. Help us promote these events on social media, email, your school district websites and newsletters, or through good, old-fashioned word of mouth.

Localize Efforts

There are so many stories of school board members doing amazing work for Michigan students. That, paired with MASB’s statewide presence, allows for a powerful amplification of communication efforts to encourage others around the state to Get on Board.

MASB’S ROLE: We’ll be producing informational videos, inspiring videos and everything in-between. Additionally, we’ll be sharing YOUR stories, as well as articles and other content catered to you (current public education leaders), prospective candidates and the general public—one of these being a free digital edition of the MASB Candidate’s Guide. All of the materials will be published on the GOB website as well as on the campaign’s social media channels (@GetOnBoardMI on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram).

YOUR ROLE: Keep an eye out for anything GOB related in MASB publications, including specific calls to action. We’ll be encouraging you to have conversations about who on your board may not be running for reelection and will have recruiting tips available to use in these instances. We’ll post educational resources for your districts to help spread the word, as well as social media content that you can help amplify and localize GOB efforts.

Time to Act

This is a time where there is no shortage of need for individuals who are willing to step up and give back on behalf of students in their community. It’s time to act both digitally and offline when it comes to ensuring our school boards are high-functioning and effective.

MASB’S ROLE: We’ll be strengthening partnerships with rural areas that have historically seen higher percentages of unfiled-for seats; with businesses; and other community entities to encourage people to file for a school board seat by this year’s deadline, Tuesday, July 21, 2020 by 4 p.m.

YOUR ROLE: Ensure your district Governance Team is informed on who is planning to run again, who is planning to retire from their board seat, and if needed, recruit and encourage at least one person to file to run for any openings.

This article is intended to serve as a tool—for you, your friend who would make a great school board member or for any other entity willing to spread the word. I encourage you to tear these pages out, print them off if you’re reading digitally, or simply forward it along far and wide.

Together, I’m certain we can further expand the ripple effect. Are you ready to Get On Board?

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This article first appeared in the Spring 2020 LeaderBoard magazine. View the full issue here.

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