So, you’ve decided you want to be in the room where it happens — or to be more specific, on the dais where it happens. You are considering embarking on a journey that, if successful, will end with you being elected to your local school board. There is much to consider before running, but once you’ve made the decision to run, you are going to need to know how.
Can you even run for the Board? Typically, to be eligible for a seat on the board, you must:
Research the background and qualifications of the current and recent school board members so that you can get an idea of community expectations of board members. Familiarize yourself with current issues in your district. Are Charter Schools an issue? Is truancy an issue? Is funding an issue? Are you going to be faced with making big cuts or closing schools or laying off teachers? You must be sure that you want to tackle these and other tough issues before you move ahead with your decision to run.
You’ll need to know if the job is a full- or part-time commitment. What does it pay? Is your spouse/family supportive of your choice? How do they feel about seeing your name on campaign signs throughout the district or seeing your name in the news when decisions garner press coverage (both positive and negative)?
"...it should be mandatory for every school board candidate in California to earn their Ed100 Completion Certificate." --Denise Jennison
Now, I may be partial, but I think it should be mandatory for every school board candidate in California to earn their Ed100 completion certificate. There is no better resource to provide candidates a comprehensive, easy-to-understand, well-rounded overview of California's key education issues. And the biggest plus is that it is free! Full disclosure: long before I was a contributing blogger for Ed100, I was an avid user and promoter of the site. It is simply unmatched in what accomplishes.
It is one thing to proclaim that you want to run for school board. It is another thing altogether to face the reality of what serving might entail. As a public figure you will, inevitably, suffer the wrath of an angry public as you debate the important issues your district faces. You will be on the receiving end of some very accusatory and often uninformed comments to which you may not always be able to respond. Consider whether you have the wherewithal to absorb and withstand public scrutiny under difficult circumstances with dignity and understanding.
The school district is often one of the largest employers in a city, even without counting the students and volunteers at work in schools! The decisions that board members make are far-reaching and have a significant impact, not just on students, but on staff members and on the community. Simply having attended schools or having put your children through the schools does not qualify you to run the schools. Effective school board members are often education professionals with broad experience in the local schools.
Ask yourself why you are running. Be honest.
You must possess some knowledge of district-wide needs. You are elected to represent all the children of the district. Your individual experience may not be representative of district-wide needs. In today’s political climate it is also beneficial to understand the legislative aspect of education in California. An understanding of school funding, and experience with, or willingness to partner with local legislators is also valuable.
Ask yourself why you are running. Be honest. Are you running on a single issue because you want to change something you do not like? Or are you running because you care about and value public education and want to preserve it and make it better for all students and staff? Single-issue candidates are often on the wrong end of the election outcome. Are incumbents running? It is difficult to unseat an incumbent – especially if the schools are running well, the Board is effective, and the students are succeeding. Know why you are running. Thoroughly examine your motives and motivation. If you are in it for the right reasons and have done your homework then it’s time to proceed.
Right off the bat, you need to become familiar with the agency that governs candidates and elections. The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) is a five-member, independent, nonpartisan commission responsible for the administration of the Political Reform Act. Its mission is to make sure that candidates behave ethically and transparently in order to ensure public trust in the political system. It oversees campaign activities and finances.
There are rules you need to know as a candidate. Get the training you need!
A word of caution: the FPPC is not playing around. You may be thinking that yours is just a small, local school board race and no one is really paying attention or concerned, but don’t fool yourself. There have been several articles in the news about recent investigations by the FPPC that resulted in punitive action being taken against local elected officials for campaign finance abuses. Every elected official in every race statewide is required to abide by the rules.
The FPPC offers courses that help educate candidates learn about campaign rules and regulations. Counties throughout the state host training classes locally in partner with the FPPC. They also offer courses at their offices in Sacramento as well as providing webinars. Don’t get caught off guard because you did not know. The most important course of which you can avail yourself is the course on being a campaign treasurer. There is much to know about reporting requirements, filing statements, depositing and reporting of funds in a timely manner, etc. You can read about these requirements, but training by someone from the FPPC is irreplaceable.
Be familiar with local campaign ordinances. Some jurisdictions may impose ordinances that are more stringent than those set forth in the Political Reform Act. The FPPC website has links to local jurisdictions that have filed their changes.
Reporting requirements are strict and inflexible. Get help!
Especially if this is your first time running for elected office, get an experienced campaign manager. Depending on the size of your district, or the visibility of your race, your campaign manager may be in charge of fundraising, scheduling appearances (debates, forums, etc.), communications with the press and potential donors, organizing your volunteers, phone banks, production and distribution of campaign mailers and other campaign activities.
No matter whether your race is big or small, you need a campaign treasurer. Although it is legal for you to be your own treasurer, you have other things to do. Reporting requirements are strict and inflexible. Statements must be filed regularly throughout the campaign. Certain donations must be reported within 24 hours of receipt. You need a dedicated person to maintain primary control of the finance and timely filing activities of your campaign.
Get the FPPC "Candidate's Toolkit"
Before raising or spending any money on a campaign, you must file your intent to become a candidate. In California this is Form 501, available on the FPPC website in their Candidate’s Toolkit. As alluded to above, paperwork must be filed at every step of the campaign. Read the Toolkit thoroughly. You must file a Form 410 if you intend to raise more than a specified amount ($2,000 at this time) to support your campaign. You will be required to file many other reporting forms during and after your campaign, until you terminate your campaign committee. Rely on a qualified treasurer to file these forms for your campaign, but know that your signature is required on the forms. Not knowing is not an excuse for not doing. Ultimately the onus is on you, the candidate, to make sure that you are abiding by campaign laws.
Visit your podiatrist and start walking.
The public that will be electing you needs to get to know you and what you stand for. It is now your job to convince voters that you are the right person to fill this important role. Get your position out there. Start a website. Submit your candidacy and positions to local newspapers, both in print and online. Use social media. Get yard signs. Purchase mailers. Attend forums and debates with other candidates. Communicate with your voters in every way possible to garner as much recognition as possible.
Talk with voters. Especially as a new candidate, you are unknown. You cannot win the seat or do the job without meeting hundreds of community members to learn about them and ask for their vote. You need their voices in your mind. Contact the registrar of voters for precinct maps and lists of who actually voted in the last election. Visit your podiatrist and start walking.
As you get your message out there, be sure to evaluate how it is resonating with the public. Be responsive to public input. Use it formulate your messaging going forward. Do not be afraid to modify your messaging. You do not want to change your position lightly on issues that are important to you, but refining your message to better communicate your position is responsive and appropriate.
The campaign is not over until the final ballot has been cast and the yard signs have all been cleaned up. Stay engaged and participate up to and all the way through election day. Consider planning an election night gathering so that your supporters can join you in watching the returns. Returns can be tracked online through the website of your County Registrar of Voters.
Best of luck to you as you embark on a journey to continue a long tradition of a locally governed public education system. A strong public education is the cornerstone of a strong democracy. It cannot continue without engaged citizens willing to serve.
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