PART I: ILLINOIS SCHOOL BOARD ELECTIONS - THE BASICS
Municipal elections are underway across the state, and on those ballots will be a number of candidates running for their district school boards.
These elections will affect 852 school districts in Illinois and more than two million students, but voter turnout typically runs under 20 percent. She Votes Illinois wants to make sure you feel empowered to go to the polls this election day. We asked some female parents, teachers, students and current school board members about what to evaluate, and what a school board can contribute to its community. Hopefully these points will help you make your decision at the voting booth on Tuesday, April 2, 2019.
SVI: What is the purpose of a school board?
LeeAnn, School Board Member, District 215 near Calumet City, Cook County: The purpose of a school board is to ensure that the resources allocated to the district are used in ways that are most beneficial for the students and the community. This requires balancing the needs of the students against the needs of the taxpayers. When these factors are not in balance, the community suffers.
Sital, Parent, District 157c in Frankfort, Will County: The most important function of the school board is to serve the interests of the children. I have three children in this school district and am invested in providing them with the tools and knowledge to navigate their futures.
SVI: What are some common responsibilities of a school board?
School Board Member, District U-46 in Elgin, Kane County: School boards approve all curriculum, resources, and educational services in the district. They monitor student achievement through assessments and program evaluations. School boards are responsible for ensuring the availability and maintenance of proper facilities. The board also oversees all financial matters and is legally required to submit annual budgets and audits to the state; school boards also set the annual property tax levy. Additionally, while staff does not report directly to a school board, the board is responsible for all collective bargaining agreements for setting employment policies.
Joanna, Student, District 201 in Swansea, St. Clair County: [School boards] should serve the interests of teachers and students.
Amy, Teacher, District 170 in Bushnell, McDonough County: The school board oversees the operations, finances and personnel of a school district.
Maya, Student, District 185 in Macomb, McDonough County: The school board provides governing and insight to a school district. It makes decisions about school policies, finance, technology, and other issues that concerns schools. The school board works with the superintendent and principals to ensure a smooth, safe and educating school system.
SVI: What do you think makes an effective school board? What should a resident look for in a school board candidate?
Jessica, Parent, District 113 in Swansea, St. Clair County: Knowing the community, awareness and compassion for the families that qualify for financial assistance. Our school has 11% of its attendees that qualify for free or reduced meals, but has never offered breakfast. My school board doesn’t seem concerned about any of those kids. My school district is one of the wealthiest in the area. I find [the board] effective, but seriously lacking in some basics.
Sital, Parent, District 157c in Frankfort, Will County: The most effective school board is transparent, vocal and seeks participation from the community and other key stakeholders.
Amy, Teacher, District 170 in Bushnell, McDonough County: Understanding the needs of the community, students and staff they serve. Putting for policies that are fair, balanced and in the best interest of the community, even when it is not popular.
SVI: What would you like to see your school board focus on this year?
Maya, Student, District 185 in Macomb, McDonough County: A few years ago, the school board voted to have MAP testing in the elementary, junior high, and high school. The idea behind testing is that it allows tracking of a student’s knowledge in math and reading throughout their education. However, the testing is narrow, as it only tests part of two subjects. It takes away time that students could be using to learn in the classroom, and it encourages teachers to define students by a number instead of their hard work, involvement, and skills that are not evaluated on the MAP test. I think the school needs to get rid of this test and focus on educating kids, not testing them.
Amy, Teacher, District 170 in Bushnell, McDonough County: Knowing that community involvement is a current focus of our board, I would like to see it continue in this direction. Bringing together community members with teachers and staff to make decisions based on the opinions and best interests of all affected parties.
SVI: What school board policies are you most concerned with that affect women and girls?
Sital, Parent, District 157c in Frankfort, Will County: The dress code has been brought up within our school board. When discussing the dress code, one of the most common comments concerned the “tight, short shorts that girls wear.” There were also issues with the yoga pants and tank tops. Sexualizing the dress of our young girls hurts their self-esteem and makes them feel “inappropriate.” We need to stop allowing men to stereotype our dress in order to control what we wear.
School Board Member, District U-46 in Elgin, Kane County: One area of concern is the reworking at the federal level of sexual assault and sexual harassment regulations under Title IX. I have spoken with legislators at the state level who are working to ensure that the Illinois regulations are more robust than the federal regulations. Still, it is concerning to see a watering-down of Title IX at the federal level.
SVI: Why should residents, including those who do not have children, care about who is elected to the school board?
LeeAnn, School Board Member, District 215 near Calumet City, Cook County: School boards affect their property tax bills or the rent they pay. It is vital that school boards make sound decisions so as to have balanced budgets that do not drive up property taxes unnecessarily.
School Board Member, District U-46 in Elgin, Kane County: While in many ways school boards are constrained by state and federal law, the function of the school board has a profound and proven effect on the overall performance of a school district. When school boards are well-aligned with the mission of public education and the success of students, districts thrive. Where school boards are in conflict and are distracted by politics and special interests, districts tend to devolve into dysfunction. School boards set the tone for staff and students and bear the primary responsibility to make sure student needs are met, regardless of what those needs are. Boards that are indifferent to those needs will cause districts to stall in their mission to serve students.
Get to the Polls!
It’s up to us to ensure that our school boards are diverse, inclusive, and represent the needs of our community, so it’s vital that we participate in the voting process for this important local government body, the school board. Learn your candidates by researching online, or by contacting your county clerk’s office. Be sure to do your research to see who aligns best with your values. Our votes are our voices, so let’s use them on April 2nd!