In her Sept. 9 column, Sarah Garrecht Gassen laments there aren’t enough candidates for our local school boards. Gassen’s point wasn’t necessarily about the quality of the candidates, although I know that’s important to her. Rather, her concern is that there aren’t actual people running for actual school board seats. As in: Only two districts in Pima County are having a general election this year.
As a teacher, I share Gassen’s concern. As a citizen, I share Gassen’s concern. And, as a candidate for the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board, I share Gassen’s concern.
The governing boards of our schools set the tone and policies of a vital part of our kids’ lives. They make important decisions about how to spend public money. In the case of TUSD’s $550 million budget, how those funds are spent directly impacts 44,000 kids’ educations. The Governing Board decides which curricula get adopted, which texts our kids are going to read, which priority in the district is going to get a claim on our already-strapped resources.
The decisions are big and the consequences real. It’s an important job. Yet so few people step forward to do it. And when they do, what do we do to make sure they’re worthy enough to put our kids’ future in their hands? Sure, as Gassen notes, there are forums to hear the candidates — a sort of interview for the job, under bright lights and into a microphone. But Gassen says there’s a problem with the way we interview candidates: we don’t have students lead the discussion. I agree 100 percent.
Some students do come to the forums, which are often held in the evening hours. Not too many do. Sometimes we might see a student come to a board meeting to discuss a policy or ask the Governing Board a question. Few things in this town surpass seeing students take the microphone at a TUSD meeting and speak their truth. Agree or disagree with the points they bring up, but it’s amazing to watch kids exhibit agency and community engagement.
I became a teacher so I could educate students on how to think critically and cite evidence to make a point. So to see them do it with their school board makes me hopeful for our future. The election we’re voting in this year — in any year — is the election that sets the future for these kids. That’s important to remember.
In all honesty, there are so many important races this election. Voters must make informed decisions about major issues, often with a lot of noise and distractions that make it hard to hear the truth over the spin. How do you even go about figuring out which candidate will best do the job? Electing candidates who will represent the issues you care about is one of the hardest parts of living in a democracy. Sometimes we rely on our gut to guide us to the right choice.
With school board races, that’s the case. They are so far down ballot, voters often don’t know a thing about the platforms of the candidates. With little information to go on, you’ll have to decide who is best to trust with your most precious resource: your kids.
As Gassen said, we need students leading this discussion. That’s who governing boards serve. As a teacher, as a candidate, as a voter: I hope students will get involved alongside parents and community members. Ask us candidates the hard questions. Keep us honest. Keep us engaged. Keep us responsible. Keep us focused on the students. After all, that’s who we’re here for.