5. Your school board controls (a lot of) your tax dollars.
It can be rather astounding to think how much control a school board, made up of elected volunteers, has over your city, borough or township’s budget. For example, the Pittsburgh Public Schools budget is almost $70 million larger than the entire budget for the City of Pittsburgh.
As a voter, you want to find people who are fiscally responsible to reliably control those purse strings.
6. It’s up to you to evaluate school board candidates.
Even if people are motivated to vote, they may not recognize any of the names on the ballot, especially for local races, such as school board candidates.
“It does take some work — it can be as simple as going to a school board meeting or talking to friends and family to see what they know about the candidates,” Mikus says. “If you happen to stumble on a candidate in a grocery store, or if they’re in your neighborhood knocking on doors, it’s important to have a conversation with them about what they want to do, whether it’s spending money or [enacting] various policies.”
The PSBA offers potential school board candidates a guide to running for office. Many people don’t have much money for such campaigns, relying mostly on yard signs, social media and door knocking, says Mikus, but they generally run because they care about the schools and care about their communities.
“The good thing is you’re not dealing with career politicians,” Mikus says. “The one good thing about evaluating these races is the candidates’ platforms tend to be unvarnished. You know where they stand, whereas with a congressional race, they’ll massage the language to make it less clear or find the most popular things to talk about. These candidates are running because they believe in something. It may be harder to connect with them, but it’s easier to find what they believe in.”
Over the next few weeks, for the Pittsburgh elections, the Vote School Board First! coalition will be holding forums and offering online videos with candidate interviews, says Fogarty. There will be multiple opportunities for voters to get information about the races and “we hope people take advantage of that and vote,” he says. Whether you live in the city or a suburb, there’s still time to learn more before the primary election.
“Honestly, if you haven’t done your research at this point, talk to your neighbors. If you’re a parent with children in schools, talk to the teachers and principals,” Fogarty says. “Try to get as much information from as many sources as you can.”