#117 – Dick Bernard: The School Board election

I live in an affluent community.  There is no “other side of the tracks” unless one counts a few Habitat for Humanity houses not far from here, or some lower income apartments.  This is a well educated place, full of professional types.
My community is one of several who are part of our local school district.  The other communities have slightly different profiles than mine, but not that different.  We are reliably middle class.
Last Tuesday was our districts school board election.  There were 10 candidates for 4 open positions.
It has been a long time since I’ve been parent of a school age child, so public education is a way off my active day-to-day list.  But I always vote, and a week before the election I wrote a friend who I know is active in school affairs in this town, and asked if she had any recommendations.  She didn’t.  So I went about learning what I could about the candidates, picked four, and voted.  The next day I found that half of my candidates won.  Fair enough.  I had showed up.
But it seemed like a very small voter turnout, and I started to nose around.
Succinctly, this particular school district has about 55,000 registered voters.  The school district website says “The population of the district is approximately 100,000 people including the 16,650 students who attend district schools.”
On election day, about 6% – one of sixteen – of those registered voters actually cast a ballot.  The rest apparently didn’t care who made policy for the nearly 17,000 children in this districts schools.
The candidate with the largest vote got 1614 votes.  By my calculation that means about 3% – one of thirty-three registered voters – elected the candidate.
As I looked further into this matter, I came to discover that there was a concerted effort by one group to pull off what I would call a “bullet ballot” for three candidates they supported.  They leveraged the small turnout into a win for two of their people.  Even so, their candidates got very few votes, so even they were not that successful (unless one counts “winning” as the ultimate success).
Our vote this year was uncomplicated.  The only issue was the school board election.  It was a quick in and out for any voter, including the very significant percentage of eligible voters who have children of their own in these public schools.
But the vast, overwhelming majority of people did not care enough to vote, and, as disturbing, to apparently not even care enough who it is making the policy governing their children’s education.  The clear winner in this election was disengagement.
We should be ashamed.
But we won’t be….