Washington Educators Start Recruiting School Board Candidates


By Cynthia McCabe

Wanted: school board members who understand what it means to work in a school, or who will at least listen to those who do.

With that ideal candidate in mind, educators and union leaders in Washington state in 10 areas, including three of the state’s largest cities — Seattle, Vancouver and Spokane — set out to recruit school board candidates for 2011 and 2012.

The program, initiated by the National Education Association, works in partnership with Wellstone Action and Progressive Majority, groups dedicated to electing progressive candidates. It’s been used previously by the Ohio Education Association and participants with the Washington Education Association are seeing interest from colleagues in other states.

“We have a real opportunity here to engage and support our locals and change the shape of policy at their level,” said Simone Boe, political coordinator for the Washington Education Association.

The need to focus on a local level of political activity became clear to Johnathan Knapp, vice president of the Seattle Education Association. During the last three years, the superintendent there proved to be problematic for educators, and six new board members were elected who were quickly molded in her anti-educator “reform” image, Knapp said.

“We teachers have been sort of hemmed in here and our voice is not even considered to be a legitimate part of the debate anymore,” Knapp said. “How do we push back on that? Getting involved in school board politics is one of the ways to do that.”

The key is getting people in positions to make decisions that are pro-public education and pro-teacher, Knapp said, not just electing those who will steamroll a path toward privatization.

“Increasingly too many educational policy decisions are being made by people who have little or no experience actually teaching,” said Erik Peterson, Director of Education and Labor Programs for Wellstone Action. “If educators don’t step up to the responsibility of making the policies that shape education we will continue to see an erosion of public education and an attack on the teaching profession.”

The Wellstone Action program trains participants to work in recruiting teams. Frank conversations encouraging people to run for office can be difficult, but role playing ahead of time helps them prepare.

Even though the Washington state effort is fairly new — having just started with 36  people being trained in early March — they’ve already got one candidate recruited and another potential recruit for the 2011 school board elections. One is a parent and the other is a former teacher. Eleven candidates will participate in a training next week.

“Finding candidates is like finding a needle in the haystack,” says Boe. “You have to find the right person and one who doesn’t mind being put through the ringer.”

But continuing that search is crucial. Perhaps nowhere are educators more immediately affected than at the level of the school board, which in most cases bargains contracts with the union.

“This is where our members’ absolute total working conditions are impacted,” said Boe. “When our worker conditions are impacted — positively or negatively — it affects the kids.”

Reader Comments

  1. As long as education is being nationalized, or children are being trained to be dumb and never ask questions. I am from one of the generations that failed the litmus test of not being to smart.

    Educators are now and have been teaching these standards and globally the education level is tanking out. The US used to be in the top ranking, but now children are like shooting fish in a barrel.

    Karl Marx said to change a country, the children must be changed and John Dewey agreed. John Dewey was an ardent follower of Karl Marx and communism. School teachers must bring real education back to our schools and to our country. My one and only real question here is, are the school teachers communist? If they are not, then the children will benefit from the freedom we have and so will the USA. Other then that, schools will continue to be the incubator of communism.

  2. I believe the beginning to understanding is to get to know today’s American child. We seem to do business, talk politics, recreate standards and benchmarks, test, criticize, argue, and the shadow of the child gets dimmer and dimmer. When a schoolboard member can visit a home, talk to a child about mommy in prison, the sexual abuse of uncle, and the alcoholism of grandpa, then, we have even ground on which to begin. We need human resources. We teach on bare bones budgets with bare bones materials to students who first need understanding, next, compassion and love, and next, intervention.

  3. My husband is running for our districts school board. He is fed up with people who do not understand the purpose of public education criticizing the system. He is a retired IBEW union member who worked for a major railroad. Our local paper has featured several Letters to the Editor which absolutely slam teachers. One went so far as to call us “scumbags”. His agenda is strictly to help the kids in our district get the best possible education so they are prepared for the 21st century work place. There are currently 12 people running for five spots on our school board. All five incumbents are running with seven new people.

  4. I believe thats a good idea, i also believe all board members must live in the school district to be elected, that way they would be more concern with tax payers money,

  5. I agree the school board members should be people who have integrity, knowledge of how a K-12 educational system works. Individuals who listen to the parents, guardians, community members, and yes the teachers, support staff, and students concerning their school so that the learners are academically successful and prepared to enter the world of higher education, the military, and/or gain internships and employment with various businesses locally and nationally, to be responsible well-rounded productive United States Citizens. Future Leaders of American.

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