WA School Board Electoral Civics
Stuff I didn't know--and is worth knowing
Public education is essential to our humanity, our society, and our country. Providing public education is a complex undertaking. It is far, far more than just arguing over mask mandates and vaccinations (although you wouldn’t know that from some of the candidates running for school board director positions this year--see subsequent posts). Public education comprises nearly fifty percent of the Washington State budget.
For a hint at the complexity, there are 256 school districts in the State of Washington all of which function under the umbrella of the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, led by Superintendent Chris Reykdal. The 256 districts are divided into nine geographical Educational Service Districts (ESDs). (See map.) Each of the 256 districts has both a number and name. Spokane Public Schools is also “District 81” and Central Valley School District (serving a large part of the City of Spokane Valley, mostly south of I-90, plus Liberty Lake) is also “District 356” (See another map or, better, an interactive map.) None of these districts conform neatly to the municipal (city and town) boundaries of the areas they serve. Spokane Public Schools, for example, extends south into Spokane County beyond the southern limits of the City of Spokane. Central Valley School District includes Liberty Lake.
When we as voters chose among candidates for the “director” positions (aka members) of one of these local school boards we are choosing among people volunteering for a time-consuming and unpaid job. A bill in the Washington State legislature in 2013 would have provided a salary of $42,000 annually. It did not pass.
Candidates for school board director positions fall into two categories: 1) Selfless individuals who wish to serve the children and parents of their community. These folks often have some background in education or community service. They understand some of the complexity. or 2) People with a particular ideological axe or two to grind. In the school board elections we face this fall there are a number of candidates whose primary interest is to rail against mask mandates and what they imagine as the public school curriculum. The takeover of local commissions and boards by the far right nationalist wing of Republican Party is encouraged locally and regionally by followers of Steve Bannon’s “precinct strategy”.
School boards in Washington State are governed by state law, the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) Title 28A, “Common School Provisions”. Much of what the local school board can and cannot do is spelled out there, but within those bounds each school board has the power to write and revise its own bylaws.
The manner in which directors (members) are elected to local school boards varies from district to district. For example, the directors of the Board of SPS (Spokane Public Schools, District 81) serve for six year terms while directors of the Board of CVSD (Central Valley School District, District 356) serve four year terms. Residents of District 81 may file to run for any one of the five positions on the SPS Board regardless of their address. Residents of CVSD can only run for the CVSD board position associated with the particular geographic sub-district in which they live.
Regardless of the CVSD sub-district requirement, candidates for school board for both SPS and CVSD run for the their position full-school-district-wide. In District 81 a candidate must look for votes from among what are currently 155,069 voters. That is the largest registered voter pool for any position on the election ballot anywhere in Spokane County in this year’s off-off year election--by a factor of more than two. The SPS registered voter pool is three times the number of registered voters (52,464) to whom a candidate for City of Spokane City Council for District 3 (NW Spokane) must appeal. Contemplate that. School board races usually attract less financial support and less press coverage than City Council races--and yet school board candidates have to search for votes among three times as many voters.
CVSD’s (Central Valley School District’s) registered voter count is 65,972. That’s roughly the same number of registered voters (67,699) as those a candidate for City of Spokane Valley City Council faces (unlike the City of Spokane, City of Spokane Valley Council candidates are elected City-wide, not by District). The counts of registered voters are similar, but they are not the same voters, e.g. while CVSD includes the City of Liberty Lake, it misses parts of the City of Spokane Valley.
Out of these pools of registered voters typically only a fifth to a quarter of them bother to turn in a ballot in the August primary. Unless we voters are willing to let our school boards be taken over by far right ideologues, it behooves us to pay better attention to the candidates and the details of school board elections, especially this November. Meet the candidates, check out their backgrounds, share information with in-district friends and relatives, buzz a little on social media, and contribute money and time to the campaigns of the candidates who are equipped to do the better job. The future of our children depends on your involvement.
I plan to offer some detail of the school board races in SPS and CVSD in subsequent posts, but for the many of you who read this email who do not vote in these districts: do your homework on the candidates in your own districts--do it now.
Keep to the high ground,