A Mom’s Guide to Understanding School Board Races

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Election season is upon us, and School Board Elections are coming up in just a few short weeks. As November 8th draws closer, the campaigns will do their best to win your support and get you to the polls. While most years, these local elections come and go without much attention or fanfare, there is an increased interest in school board elections this year across the country. Amid campaign slogans, mailers, and canvassers, information and claims can be confusing and seemingly contradictory. This can make it challenging to be an informed voter. As moms, we are often an important and valuable constituency for candidates running for school board. Understanding the role of a school board and who is running is an integral part of being an informed voter. The following guide aims to help our readers understand the history and roles of school boards, provide resources for becoming more informed, and concludes with a profile on a local school board candidate (and mom!) on what motivated her to run and what she hopes to accomplish if elected. We know as moms, we want the best for our kids, and we at Indianapolis Moms want you to feel empowered and informed on this topic that impacts so many of you. Without further ado, here’s a “Mom’s Guide to Understanding School Board Races” presented by Indianapolis Moms. 

School Boards: History and Role

The first school board was founded in the 1830s in Massachusetts when “common school” advocates argued that public investment in education would benefit the nation by “transforming children into literate, moral, and productive citizens.” As the acceptance of states for overseeing universal public education grew throughout the 19th century, the process of local communities uniting to hire teachers, build schools, and support schools helped increase the sense of community. You can read more about this history here.

The number of school board positions for a district and how they are chosen varies by the school district. The school board’s two main functions are “to determine educational policy and administrative procedures in a school district.” As part of their function, the board has the financial responsibility to appropriate funds, manage properties, and handle employee contracts. The school board is tasked with providing governance for the district by working with the superintendent to develop, evaluate, and adopt board policies, administrative guidelines, and local policies that govern our schools and students. The community also relies on the school board to serve as liaisons – to listen to parents and other community stakeholders. You can read more about this here.

Resources to become more informed

It can be challenging to find out information on local candidates and races. In most areas in Indiana, a voter can vote for all candidates in their school board race (even if they don’t live in the district). For example, there are three district seats on the ballot in my school board race, and even though I only live in one of the districts, I will vote for all three district candidates.

  • You can register to vote here. Deadline is 10/11/2022
  • You can find out who is on your ballot, voting hours, and your polling location here.
  • Links to various articles for Marion County School Board races are available here.
  • Candidates for greater Indianapolis School Board races are available here.

Additional ways to become an informed voter

  • A quick Google search should be able to tell you who is on your ballot. You can always Google those candidate names and find their websites.
  • Many candidates are hosting meet and greets, which are a great way to talk to the candidates directly and ask your questions.
  • You can email your candidates and ask questions you may have.
  • Keep an eye on local journalism for coverage of local races.
  • Ask your school district if they are hosting any candidate forums.
  • Create a study group with friends. Assign friends to research a candidate and then come together to discuss what you learned about the candidate’s motivations and goals.

Candidate Spotlight

Kristin Kouka is a mom running for school board for Carmel’s 1st District. She was gracious enough to make time in her busy schedule to sit down with me and provide insight into her campaign, her motivation for running, and what she hopes moms will consider when casting votes in their local races.

What qualifications do you think are important for a school board member to have?

I think school board members need to make decisions based on what is best for students. The first guiding principle for Carmel Clay Schools where I am running, is “Students are at the center of every decision. Therefore, qualifications for a candidate running for school board should include a working knowledge of how a budget works, the ability to listen to various viewpoints and perspectives, and a desire to work in partnership with district leadership and community members to help schools best serve all students. School board members need to put their personal and political feelings aside to make objective decisions for our students and district. A candidate must be willing to work within the system’s parameters and with others to make decisions based on what’s best for students without allowing schools to become the battleground for political grievances. 

What have you done as a candidate to become more knowledgeable about the issues and concerns facing schools? 

Since deciding to run, I have been very intentional about meeting with stakeholders in our community. I have met with administrators in our district as well as talked to district teachers about their concerns. I met with Dr. Beresford and Lt. Adam Miller, who supervises the School Resource Officer (SRO) program as a partnership between CCS and the Carmel Police Department. Dr. Beresford educated me on the main duties of school board members and how the relationship between CCS and the school board members works. Lt. Miller is an amazing asset to CCS. The SRO program has now extended to all CCS schools to help keep students safe. And all SROs work to build relationships with students, so they are not only seen as law enforcement officers but also as educators and mentors.

In addition to the above meetings, I am working on talking to as many parents and community members as possible. Parents overwhelmingly tell me that they know how valuable an education is in our school district and want to ensure the continued excellence. This will obviously be a continuous process throughout my campaign and if elected to the school board. I feel it is of utmost importance that school board members act as liaisons with the community in order to gain an understanding of current issues and concerns. More than anything, community members want to ensure their voices are being heard. I believe that listening to what their concerns are is vital to the board-community relationship.

What do you see as the perceived role of the school board by members of the public? Does this align with your understanding of the role of the school board? What do you think is important for the public to know about the roles and responsibilities of the school board?

One area where I think there is a common misconception is the power of the board to make changes unilaterally. The perceived role of the school board by the public appears to be that the school board controls many of the day-to-day operations of the district and can make broad policy and educational changes on a whim. However, as I am learning more about school board roles, I have learned this is not the case. As a board, their role is to work in partnership with stakeholders to help relay community concerns and viewpoints, evaluate data to inform decisions, consider proposed policy changes to improve student performance and/or better reflect best practices and oversee the budget and contracts for the district. The community also relies on the school board to serve as liaisons – to listen to parents and other community stakeholders.

What questions do you think voters should consider of candidates running for school board? 

I think there are three considerations every voter should ask themselves before they vote. 

First, I think they should have a knowledgeable understanding of what is motivating a candidate to run. Who does the candidate say they are running to represent? Is it students or parents? Is it a subset of community members? How are they engaging with members of the community as a candidate? 

Secondly, what does the candidate know about how the board works and the roles/responsibilities of the board? Do they have a true understanding of the specifics of the role?

Lastly, I think voters should consider how candidates are portraying current board members. Are they indicating they are running to be a team player and improve the workings of the school board? School board seats are staggered for re-elections and current candidates will need to be able to work alongside current board members and leadership. While there can be differences in viewpoints and voting, it is essential that board members can do the important business of running the school which will require working together to solve problems.

What prompted you to run for school board? What specific issues and ideas were most influential in your decision to run?

I am a life-long volunteer for many different non-profit organizations. My parents taught me that our civic duty is to be involved in our local community; to serve as we can. I feel like I am uniquely qualified as a parent of children who attend our public schools and as a small business owner who works with schools, parents, and children on a daily basis. I saw a need for someone with a background in working alongside schools, parents, and students and decided my professional and personal experience made me qualified as a candidate. 

One of the biggest issues that made me decide to run was the vilification of our teachers. My parents were both public school teachers who worked many after-school hours. I truly believe that teachers have the best interest of students at heart when they come to work each day. These last few years have been extremely hard on our educators and other school staff. It is in our best interest as community members and parents to help ensure the public that our teachers spend every day helping to educate our children. I want to work to improve communication and understanding of what is really occurring in our classrooms so that people have a better, more accurate understanding of what is happening in the classroom. I want our teachers to know they are supported. When teachers feel supported, they are better able to serve students. Despite a nationwide teacher shortage, Carmel has been able to fully staff our schools  this year. However,  if teachers don’t feel supported, they will leave our district and that will have long-term consequences for not only our children but our community. 

Moms, we know your plates are full, but we hope we have helped you feel informed and empowered to advocate for your kids. Remember, when the world feels overwhelming, look local.

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