Editorial: Want better schools? Get on board

The Detroit News

Michigan’s 1.5 million students in public schools need you. That’s the message the state’s school board association wants to get out, given the shortage in recent years of candidates running for local school boards. Education in this state is in bad shape, and school boards offer the most direct pathway to change.

The filing deadline for November school board elections is July 26, so time is running out.

Student performance continues to lag in Michigan. In fact, it’s getting worse by comparison as other states show improvement. National test scores makes this very clear.

A statewide poll spearheaded by the nonprofit Your Child earlier this year found widespread dissatisfaction with the state’s public schools. Residents believe that less than 30 percent of Michigan’s school-age children have access to or receive the highest quality education possible. Seventy-six percent think that education is not a top state priority, and 63 percent said that it takes more than money to improve education.

While the Legislature and a new education commission appointed by the governor work on how to make broad reforms to K-12 schools, community members also need to demand a better education for their children.

Getting elected to a school board puts concerned citizens on the ground floor of implementing reforms at the local level.

The Michigan Association of School Boards is running a campaign to encourage more individuals to throw their hat in the ring.

Don Wotruba, executive director of the association, has pointed out that despite the integral role school board members play, the state is having a hard time filling open seats. For instance, in August 2014, about 10 percent of board seats around Michigan weren’t filed for at the filing deadline. So the following year, the association commissioned a poll to see what was going on.

Reasons for not getting involved ranged from the perception that boards are too political to the time commitment involved. Some also thought that school boards are ineffective.

The school board association is looking for a wide diversity of individuals to run, including diversity of gender, age and background.

Schools boards make many essentials decisions. They oversee a district’s finances, course offerings and the hiring of a superintendent. They set the vision for a district.

Nowhere is this function more important right now than in Detroit. Detroit Public Schools is transitioning back to local control in November when the city will elect seven new board members.

The current school board is powerless, but that hasn’t stopped members from causing trouble and suing the state over its recent $617 million bailout of the school district. What they hope to gain from these actions in unclear, other than trying to fight lawmakers and Gov. Rick Snyder. Without the infusion of cash, DPS faced imminent bankruptcy.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and members of the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren have said they are taking an active interest in who runs for school board. Effective leadership will be essential for keeping the district out of debt and improving academics.

The business and philanthropic community should get behind a strong slate of candidates and help get them elected in November.

Detroit needs a good school board. But other districts are facing financial and academic challenges, too. More individuals must step up and start advocating change in their communities.