School Board Membership 101: How to Run & Get Elected

 
Ollie Thomlinson-Wells
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Every public school district is governed by a school board consisting of five to 15 members. These board members both represent their community and champion the student experience within the local district. But before they can tackle critical issues, one milestone comes first: running for a school board.

School board members are citizens elected by their community to make decisions about the local public school system based on community expectations and goals and what students need to succeed. Though serving as a school board member can be rewarding, it’s not for everyone. There are many different factors to consider in becoming a school board member, from the cost of campaigning to the commitment it takes to be an effective board member

Here’s everything prospective school board members need to know before running.

 

Why Run for School Board Membership?

Serving as a school board member requires significant time and commitment. School board roles and responsibilities are vast, and many demand each member’s undivided attention. 

Former educators and parents may seem like obvious choices for school board membership, but anyone who resides in the district may be eligible. Before running for a school board, prospective members should ask themselves: Are there specific needs for your community that you would like to see met? Do you have a goal to improve student achievement and opportunities? Do you have concrete plans for meeting those goals?

Regardless of each member’s motivations behind running for a school board, their passion must be genuine since it’ll take a lot of time and attention to see through each goal.

 

Who Is Eligible to Run for School Boards?

To be a school board member, district residents must meet specific qualifications. School board requirements can vary between districts — some districts, for example, have term limits, while some don’t. Candidates for school board membership should research their state’s school board association to see the complete list of qualifications, as most associations list the complete requirements for their district. 

A school board candidate may be asked to meet the following requirements.

 

The 5 School Board Member Qualifications

Before running for a school board, individuals must meet the following qualifications. However, qualifications may vary district-to-district, so candidates should check local regulations. 

The five typical qualifications for school board are: 

  1. Be a registered voter.
  2. Be a resident of the district that the individual is running to represent.
  3. At least have a high school diploma or a certificate of equivalency.
  4. Not a convicted felon.
  5. Not be a current employee of the district and/or be related to a current employee in that district.

 

How Often Are School Board Elections?

School board elections generally happen every year. However, not all school boards will have an election every year since it all comes down to whether or not the district has a vacancy to fill that year. For example, 181 school districts held elections in 2021 to fill 516 seats, and that’s out of the 13,800 public school districts in the U.S. 

Vacancies happen any time a school board member’s term ends (terms typically last two to four years) or if a board member has to resign mid-term. Prospective members will then run in a primary election in May, then a general election in November. Their new term begins on the date of the election. 

 

How Much Does It Cost to Run for School Boards?

It can cost more to run for a school board than most district residents probably think. While it is possible to run for as little as $5,000, there’s actually a lot of money in school board elections. In Denver, Colorado, for example, candidates spent more than $1.6 million in their 2021 election

But this money doesn’t come directly out of the candidates’ pockets. Wealthy individuals, teachers’ unions and even non-profits often contribute to the campaigns of candidates who will support their interests, which drastically increases campaign spending. Be sure to review election spending laws before launching a campaign since some districts already have limits in place while others are seriously considering them.

 

How to Run for a School Board (With 7 Steps)

School board members are usually selected by a public vote in alignment with school district policy, typically every two to four years. School boards can contain between five and fifteen members who are either elected by a majority or plurality voting system. In the former, a runner has to receive more than 50% of the vote to win. In the latter, the runner with the highest number of votes receives school board membership.

Running for a school board is actually a lot like running a political campaign. Candidates can use the following steps to get started.  

 

1) Determine Eligibility 

Before filing paperwork or starting a campaign, school board candidates should first verify their eligibility. To be eligible, candidates must meet basic requirements, including being at least 18 years of age and a registered voter, living within the district, and not being a convicted felon or a district employee. 

Eligibility requirements vary by state, so candidates should make sure that they meet all the qualifications for the district they’re running in. 

 

2) Choose a Geographic Area

Districts are divided into different zones. Candidates can run to represent a specific zone, or they can run at large, which means they’ll represent the entire community. Once they’ve verified that they’re eligible to run, candidates should choose which part of their community they’ll represent while on the board. This can not only impact what issues the candidate will prioritize but also who will vote on their school board membership. 

 

3) Establish Reasons for Running

Candidates need to be able to explain why they’re running for the school board. These should connect with the voters of the geographic area the candidate is representing, but they should also be achievable. Successful candidates run on their higher-level vision for the district, not on specific issues, like teacher salaries, that might ultimately be out of their reach. 

 

4) File to Run for School Board

How to file to run for school board varies by state, but regardless of where they live, candidates should plan on filling out a lot of paperwork. Each document must be filled out according to district timelines and processes. Candidates should get in touch with their local election offices and their local school district to ensure they don’t miss a deadline. 

Most school districts require that candidates at least file the following: 

  • Official Declaration of Candidacy: This form declares that the candidate is running for a school district. It usually must be filled out at a particular place at a specific time and may even need to be notarized. Candidates will typically also use this form to signal which political party they’re running under. 
  • Financial Disclosure: This form declares any potential conflicts of interest pursuant to the state’s ethics laws. Ultimately, this disclosure verifies that the candidate will not receive direct financial benefit from board decisions.
  • Clean Criminal History: Candidates must present either a criminal history record or an affidavit stating that they have a clean criminal background. 
  • Petition: Not all states require a nominating petition. But in those that do, candidates must present their petition with sufficient signatures. 

 

5) Campaigning 

Once candidates have submitted their paperwork, it’s officially campaign time. The first round of the campaign will be for their party’s primary, which is typically in May of the election year. If they win their primary, the candidate will then need to campaign through the general election in November.

School board campaign ideas may vary from candidate to candidate, but all candidates will need to create campaign slogans and messaging, develop a website, print signs and flyers and make public appearances — plus the fundraising it takes to keep all these efforts afloat. 

 

6) Primary Election

In many states, candidates for a school board have to choose a political party when they file their declaration. The primary election is then against candidates running under that same party. In primary elections, candidates often have more similar goals since they usually align with that party’s ideals. The number of candidates in each election has also grown in recent years, so candidates are likely running against at least several other qualified district residents. 

Candidates need to be careful about differentiating themselves from the rest of the field, whether that’s simply coming up with a unique slogan or communicating about plans or ideas the other candidates simply don’t cover. 

 

 7) General Election

Once in the general election, the candidate is running against just one other candidate, typically one that filed under the opposite political party. Remember that there will be one general election per zone within the district, so candidates from different zones aren’t running against each other. 

This is the time when candidates can really let their goals and ideas shine. They should share their vision with voters and be as transparent as possible about how they plan to achieve that vision. General elections are in November, and they also mark the beginning of the member’s term. 

If the candidate wins their general election, that’s when their school board membership begins. 

 

Post-Elections

Once candidates have gained school board membership, it may seem like the last word on how to become a school board member. However, many states and districts have procedures in place up until the new school board member officially takes office. 

Elected board members may be required to complete a certificate of election, which outlines the rights and privileges of holding office. Then, new board members may be required to take an oath to be sworn into office.

These processes are crucial to maintaining good governance procedures for school boards and other government bodies. After board members have been sworn into their new roles, they can begin to assume their duties, and the board can work through restructuring board officer positions.

This is where the real work begins! An effective school board member is an individual who is willing to take advantage of opportunities for growth and development (through board training, encouraging relationships, or utilizing new technology) that support accomplishing district goals toward student success.

 

Use Technology to Increase Board Effectiveness

Leveraging the Community by Diligent, board members can maintain vital documents and materials related to board responsibilities and effectiveness. Meeting agendas, past meeting minutes, policy manuals, strategic plans, goal information, and orientation or training resources are all significant materials related to board functions.

School board members should have the capability of gaining access to these documents from any device or location securely. Leveraging Community school board members can easily upload, share, and access all of these vital materials.

This level of accessibility allows administrators and board members to share materials to make educated, timely decisions and practice good governance for the betterment of the district. These features support an influential board, leading to greater student achievement.

 

Key Takeaways

Winning school board membership is an exciting and satisfying moment after the challenge of running for school board. But it’s also an opportunity to make real change and improvement to student achievement. Board members may leverage resources and technology to do their best work to accomplish goals, but the most important thing is that school board members are prepared to serve. 

If they’re ready, willing and able to put in the time and energy to improve student experiences, they’re ready for school board membership. Technology can make their membership easier, but ultimately successful school boards and their members all start with a vision for a better, more successful district. 

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