With the election season upon us and a May 24 election date for trustee races in many school districts, I have been reflecting on how the discussions about public education today have evolved from being about concern for kids to focusing on specific political part ideologies. And I don’t see that as being a good thing for the nearly 5.3 million public education students in Texas.
I understand that political parties have platforms around which their candidates either need to focus their campaigns or run the risk of being ostracized by their own political party. Thus the push in the Republican Party for continued tax cuts and a push in the Democratic Party for social programs that assist a broad range of people. But I believe that many people, myself included, are more inclined to adopt a set of personal beliefs and values that cut across the political spectrum and are not focused solely on the platform of a party; in fact, I believe that the majority of the people feel this way.
However, this moderate perspective seems to somewhat drive away engagement by the majority of the citizens in the political process. Every day, I hear people say they are not going to vote because they don’t back the platform of a particular party or don’t believe their vote will have an impact. Unfortunately, that apathy is part of what feeds the extremist perspective for both parties.
I have followed with interest school board races in a couple of North Texas districts, both growing districts whose future may be defined by the outcome of the election on May 24. In one case, three incumbents are being challenged by individuals whose sole focus is on the word “change”. But if you press these individuals for what they mean by change and ask them to identify specific elements of current board operations that motivate them to run, they cannot (or will not) offer specifics.
In another district, mailers by one of the candidates clearly use political party affiliation as a reason to oppose individuals running for board seats. Rather than look at the platform of the candidate specifically as it relates to their pursuit of a position on the school board, thee mailers focus on other elements associated with a particular political party.
I had the privilege of serving my district as a school board trustee for ten years and I am proud of the fact that, while there may have been differences in our political beliefs, not once did those beliefs divert our attention from the reason we were elected, namely to serve our students. I am hopeful that the outcome of the elections above and others where politics seem more important than the needs of students will ultimately shift the focus to the needs of students. The role of a school board trustee should be a non-partisan position; there is no denying that political beliefs will shape decisions and actions by trustees but I encourage candidates and incumbents to focus on the students and to Make Education a Priority, not a specific political party affiliation.