Now is good time to prepare for School Board elections

The return of Jenny Daniels to the School Board, which we reported in our June 20 edition, means Liberty-area residents get an experienced board member to represent their beliefs and values in the decisions made about the operations of the Sweet Home School District.

Daniels served as a trustee for two terms, from 2009 to 2017, deciding not to run again. She was replaced by Ben Emmert, who was elected as a write-in candidate. Emmert has resigned because his wife, who graduated earlier this month from COMP-Northwest medical school, must serve a residency in Nebraska. So Daniels is returning to fill the position for the next year, when the seat will be up for election again.

This is all well and good and district residents should appreciate her willingness to step in.

This is also a good time to ask ourselves what’s wrong with a system that has recently had difficulty producing candidates for school board seats.

Daniels told us that she hopes to develop another candidate to run next year in the Liberty district, which is a commendable goal, but it brings up a question we’ve asked before: Why do we continue to use the district system to elect School Board members?

We wondered this back in 2015, when Sweet Home had three candidates, all of whom were incumbents, for six open positions. Sweet Home, Holley, Crawfordsville, Cascadia and Liberty have “neighborhood” district seats. The other four are at-large, representing the district as a whole.

As we’ve noted previously, it makes sense how this system came about back in the days when a bunch of neighborhood schools, which all had their own board, unified into what today is the Sweet Home School District. But with most of those schools now closed – Liberty, Cascadia, Crawfordsville and Pleasant Valley being the most recent, it makes less sense to continue that system.

The old system of districts made a lot of sense when there were viable schools and communities with strong local identity surrounding those schools. But Cascadia has had trouble producing a candidate in recent years, as has Crawfordsville and, more recently, Liberty.

Not only have races not been very competitive, very recently there were no candidates by filing deadlines, which prompted people to – thankfully – run as write-ins, as Emmert did.

The district should modify this somewhat antiquated system and come up with one more fitting to the current situation, in which many residents live but spend less time here because they work elsewhere. The strong local identity, and desire for close representation that prevailed when the current system was instituted has diminished somewhat, we think.

An obvious solution would be to open all nine seats up to the general population, as in City Council or County Commission elections, and select the candidates garnering the most votes for the number of open seats available.

If a candidate had strong local identity, presumably that would come out during the campaign and if he or she were from, say, Holley, voters in that community might make sure to check their neighbor’s name on their ballot.

Frankly, interest groups in the district would do well to develop their own candidates for the School Board. For instance, if Charter School parents have concerns about the district, particularly as their students progress to junior high and high school, they should produce a candidate to give themselves a voice.

We agree with Daniels, who said she felt the district was in good shape when she stepped down last year to make room for Emmert. He represented the next generation of local leaders, and it would be good to see one or two more younger people step up to give the board a broader age and experience range.

That’s not to, in any sense, detract from the board members we have, who bring significant knowledge and experience to the table. But with a whole new generation of kids in our schools, it may be a good time for younger candidates to get involved.

Certainly, being a School Board member represents commitment: at least one meeting a month, doing necessary homework to be informed on issues the board will be discussing, and spending time occasionally at school activities.

But they help keep the local schools on track, setting policies that affect kids and their schools. They add their voice to the mix, collaborating with other board members and working with the superintendent and administrators to set the vision and goals for our local schools and the policies that affect our kids. They good news is they don’t have to do it alone. It’s a group effort.

Anyone who’s concerned about education should consider this. We need candidates because we’ll need quality people to lead our schools.