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July 2013 Brief: Volume 20, Number 21

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Our Children Need YOU!


by Deborah D. Thornton



“I, (name), do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the state of Iowa and that I will faithfully and impartially to the best of my ability discharge the duties of the office of school board director in (your hometown district) as now or hereafter required by law.”[1]


Though it’s an “off” year for elections, good government never has a down time. One of the most important tasks of local government service is that of being a school board member.


There are 345 public school districts in Iowa, with five to seven members on each board, from either specific or at-large districts. These boards control the education of almost 500,000 of our children and direct the spending of over $5 billion of our tax money.[2] Repeat, “control the education of almost 500,000 children” and “over $5 billion of our tax money.” Those two statements alone reflect the importance of stepping up to run for this office.


The four-year terms are staggered, so not all members are elected at one time. For some districts, the meetings and responsibilities are pretty low-key. For others, such as the Iowa City Community School District, the meetings are contentious and often long.


However, either way, our children need and deserve our efforts.


The stagnation of our children’s educational achievements is well documented. The Legislature spent much time this session discussing ways this can be addressed. Unfortunately, there are at least two diametrically opposite views on the issue.


And no matter what the State Board of Education does, or what the Legislature tells the Department of Education to do, it seems that the individual districts spend most of their time trying to avoid compliance. Issues concerning the Common Core and the new teacher reforms will be decided and implemented over the next four years. In the meantime, many previously required programs are not yet being done. For example, some school districts are refusing to re-assign children from failing schools to the school of their choice as required by No Child Left Behind, based on space issues. This is a clear violation of the law’s requirements.


According to the state association of school boards, members are “charged with accountability for student learning, determining educational goals, setting policy, [and] overseeing school finances.” Many of the Iowa public school districts are shrinking, resulting in both physical plant and educational challenges which must be addressed.


Importantly, school board members – especially conservative members – have a responsibility to address many critical social issues. If we don’t run and serve, then we can’t complain when districts and schools follow the direction of those who do. If we don’t like the contracts with the teachers’ union, we must step up to influence what is negotiated.


In order to run you must be a citizen, be over 18, and live in the district. The petition to run for School Board must be filed between July 8 and August 1, with the elections to be held September 10. You need signatures from at least 1 percent of the qualified electors or 50 electors, whichever is less, but at least ten signatures.[3] Most of us have that many relatives, who will hopefully both sign the petition and vote for us.


Board members for the community colleges are also elected on September 10 – this duty is also important as community colleges are often the first step in earning a four-year college degree. Additionally the practical and technical education received in these colleges is critical to successful workforce development.


The campaign takes neither the time nor money of a Presidential, Senatorial, Gubernatorial, or even State Legislative seat. There will probably be a couple of “debates” with opponents. And you should get a list of likely voters and go door to door in the August heat. Just take plenty of water. Buy some yard signs, and do a mailing. That’s pretty much it.


Your four-year term may feel like 40 and you’ll receive no pay, but the “thank you’s” from like-minded citizens for your service at a critical time in our state’s and our country’s direction will be pay enough.


As taxpayers, parents, and grandparents of children in the Iowa public schools, it is incumbent upon us to step up, run for office, and take on the job of ensuring the superintendents, principals, and teachers actually educate. Our children are our most valuable resource and we are shortchanging them if we don’t participate.


[1] “2013 Guide for School Board Candidates,” Iowa Association of School Boards, June 2013, p. 11, <> accessed on June 11, 2013.
[2] Ibid, p. 3.
[3] Ibid, pp. 7-8.



Deborah D. Thornton is a Research Analyst with Public Interest Institute, Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Contact her at


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