Why don’t you vote in your local school board elections?

Posted on April 6, 2008. Filed under: Voting | Tags: , , , |

Neighborhood schools, they seem like a fading memory for many neighborhoods. Here in Grand Rapids we have school of choice, leaving many families not choosing their neighborhood school if they can help it. And with school board elections coming up, it seems more imperative than ever for everyone in the neighborhood to vote, so why don’t they?

I can remember, when everyone in my neighborhood went to the same school. We walked four blocks, on our own, home from school and we loved it. Those were the good ole days! Now a days it is hard to find a whole block of children that all go to the same school just a couple blocks away. Parents have a lot of options and don’t want to send their children to a failing school, so again I ask, why don’t they vote in the school board elections?

There are only a few things I can think of:

People have just given up. I feel like this is an on going theme in American Society. There is nothing we can do about the failing schools, so why even vote? It’s easier for many parents to just send their kids to another school than put them in a struggling school and wait out the changes.

Homeowners don’t realize the school affects their home’s value. It seems obvious they would know this, but many may have lived in their homes for a very long time, and no longer have kids in school or never have, and they just don’t think about it. Schools are one of the top reasons new homebuyers purchase homes, voting in the school board elections gives home-sellers the power to make the schools right for those interested in their homes.

There are a lot of renters in the city that could care less or just aren’t registered to vote in the area. In Grand Rapids, many of the renters in the city are college students. Students may not register to vote in an area, either because they know they will be leaving in four years or because they just haven’t gotten around to it. There are also many families that rent, and if they move around a lot, only renting in short terms, they may also not reregister to vote every time they move. The second type of renter should be voting, especially if they have kids in school.

I don’t send my kids to GRPS, why would I vote in the school board elections? In any city with school of choice or parochial schools there are many children living in the GRPS school district that don’t go to GRPS. Their parents don’t feel the need to vote in the election, because their kids don’t go to the public school. For the same reasons in the first and second situations, homeowners are not voting in the public school board elections

Voting is a powerful tool every eligible citizen should take part in. Voting in the public school’s school board election in your community is part of the power citizens of that community have. I know there are obstacles, as listed above, and many people don’t see the obvious reasons for voting in school board elections if they don’t have a child in that school, but if everyone doesn’t vote there is a great possibility public schools are going to continue to decline, along with their neighborhoods, and the cycle will just keep turning.

For information on our upcoming school board election and the project I am a part of to raise awareness of the importance of the school board visit, www.wevoteGR.org.

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4 Responses to “Why don’t you vote in your local school board elections?”

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I have to admit that the sad reason that I don’t really participate in school board elections is that I am too lazy to research what the different people running for school board believe. I have serious doubts whether my uninformed vote is worth anything more than my informed vote. It would be really nice if there was a Facebook style site for all election candidates so that you could easily evaluate their stated platforms in one place.

Michael you are definetely right about the need for an easy guide to information on the candidates. Actually this year in Grand Rapids we are producing a Voters’ Guide, I think other cities should do the same.

Ah, how much I could add.

I am a GR resident, a renter, not a parent of school-aged children, and a product of suburban private schools. It might be surprising that I learned to pay attention to school politics in part from my mother, who would approve any school millage because she thought it was good for the community and therefore good for our family and good for her.

That aside, here are a couple reasons why folks haven’t voted for school board in the last few years. My perspective grows out of doing neighborhood work, particularly concerning parent involvement, for 3+ years.
1) Schools of Choice, which follows your “my kids don’t go to GRPS” note. I just had coffee with a friend who is considering purchasing a house in the city for less than she can in Caledonia, while keeping her step-daughter in Caledonia public schools. Cheaper house, “better” school district, no disruption to the child’s education.
2) GRPS has been notoriously terrible at truly listening to parents and their concerns. While glimmers of hope have shown over the years, the passionate burn out when met with the bureaucracy’s cold reception, and those people leave GRPS for a school system they think will allow them to make a difference in their children’s education. Why keep talking when nobody will listen? ie, Why keep voting?
3) I think last year marked the low point in GR school board election history. After several years of candidates declining in quality, the only two on the ballot were current school board members up for reelection. The public seemed not to have enough faith in its own schools that nobody rose to serve. Did the district seem so far gone that it might be futile to join the cause? Thank God, this year is different, and there are excellent candidates vying for a chance to lead our city on the school board.

All this said, I love my neighborhood public school. I lament that the current principal and teachers will likely retire before my 12 month old son is old enough to enter their classrooms. I am grateful for the education they have provided to the kids in my neighborhood. Any kid that goes to my neighborhood school–including a kindergartener I met last week–can tell you the “Palmer Character Traits,” who their favorite teacher is, and what they like about the school.

Schools like this one need, need, need, need to be encouraged by the community, and voting is the least of the ways we join their effort at educating and caring for our littlest neighbors.

Thanks for your great post. I vote in every election and know the importance of school boards. This year I am running FOR the school board!

My running mates and I believe we can do a better job than the incumbents. This year there are 8 candidates vying for 4 seats! Voter turn-out could make or break our win. Check out our campaign blog. We hope to attract many voters this election. http://reachingthestarsblog.com

Voter’s guides can be helpful but they can also be misleading. A candidate could have excellent credentials and a nice personality but be an ineffective board member. I’ve seen plenty.

Thanks again for your post. Wish I lived in the Grand Rapids area. You’re doing many great things recruiting voters.

All the best to you!
Janet Hughes


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