Guest Essays, Opinion

Guest essay: Keep BOE races focused on local issues, not national politics

by Angie Turkelson

There is a saying that all politics are local, and that is certainly true in local board of education races.

Our local board of education impacts nearly all families in our communities. Their work is no small task; they are charged with being stewards of local public education dollars, setting policies and procedures for a school system, handling personnel issues, approving local curriculum resources, listening to constituent concerns, creating a positive culture and climate within the school system and much more.

They are also required to give up much of their personal time to achieve these tasks, whether it is attending board meetings, representing the local board of education at other agency meetings, or spending their time fielding questions and concerns from constituents.

The job of our local board of education is often not glamorous, but it is extremely important work that sets the tone for school employees, students and the local school community at large.

That is why it is so important to vet candidates based on their commitment to managing and improving our local school system rather than hyper-partisan ideology. Local school board races are non-partisan for a reason — it’s important that candidates, and more importantly those candidates that win the election and become board members, can view all issues before them through a lens of objectivity, fairness and what’s best for the public school system and all the families it serves.

Herein lies the difference between a board of education that manages public schools versus a board that manages a private school, charter school, or microschool — our public schools accept all children walking through the door and work to meet the needs of all children. That is a core difference between public schools and non-public schools. As a result of that difference, our local board of education members must have the ability to weigh decisions carefully so that all students and all school employees can succeed and prosper within our public schools.

There are so many buzz phrases and talking points inundating school board races at the national level, and unfortunately some of that hyper-partisan talk has made its way to board of education races in West Virginia. This rhetoric works to insert issues in West Virginia that divide our communities and our families and distract us from the greater purpose and mission of our local school boards.

When choosing candidates for school board, we should set aside some of the catchy phrases and talking points you may hear on national news networks and evaluate candidates on their ability to run our local schools efficiently, effectively, fairly and objectively. Will they be someone who listens to all constituent concerns, or will they cater to a specific crowd with a hyper-partisan ideology? Do they believe in the mission of public schools and the value of public education, or are they using this position as a pulpit to shout their political grievances and advance an agenda?

Board of education elections are local and focus on local issues. Let’s keep them that way.

Angie Turkelson is a teacher at Hurricane High School and serves as the secretary for American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia   and president of AFT-Putnam.