RALEIGH — School board candidates across North Carolina will need more than just a standard “for the children” campaign speech this year, thanks to a new, easy-to-use checklist from the John Locke Foundation.
“We know you’re ‘for the children’ and you want to ‘protect the classroom,’ but what does that really mean?” asked Terry Stoops, John Locke Foundation Education Policy Analyst. “This new checklist will help school board candidates, parents, and all voters determine where the candidates stand on important public education issues.”
The John Locke Foundation is unveiling the checklist as the 2009 school board campaign season hits full stride across North Carolina. In just 10 pages, the checklist compiles a list of 28 yes/no questions for voters and candidates to consult.
Some questions focus on school instruction, while others target areas such as school personnel, attendance and school calendar issues, school facilities, finances, student retention and conduct, and community involvement.
“People using the checklist will find some simple questions: Does the school board fully support charter schools?” Stoops asked. “Does the school system post checkbook registers and invoices on its Web site?”
Other questions require more detailed answers, he added. “Does the school board make an effort to increase community and parental involvement in the public schools?” Stoops asked. “Does the school board eliminate any duplicate or obsolete reporting requirements imposed on instructional and administrative personnel by the central office?”
All questions focus on issues important to voters who will cast ballots this fall, Stoops said. “These questions will help people move beyond the campaign rhetoric,” he said. “They’ll help pin candidates down on the issues that determine whether a school board is committed to the types of policies that lead to real improvement in public schools.”
State law outlines hundreds of guidelines, recommendations, and requirements related to the work of the state’s 115 elected school boards, Stoops said. “Even seasoned school board members often find their work to be laborious and complex,” he said. “This checklist simplifies the process of understanding school boards’ work.”
Stoops outlines five fundamental principles. “First, school board members must adhere to the powers and duties granted to local boards of education by state and federal law,” he said. “Second, school board members must ensure that the public school system spends as much of its taxpayer dollars as possible on classroom instruction.”
A third principle emphasizes wise use of education dollars, Stoops said. “School board members must ensure that the public school system minimizes wasteful bureaucratic and programmatic expenditures.”
Fourth, school board members must work to meet the educational needs of children, families, and the communities in which they live, Stoops said. “To this end, school board members should collaborate with charter, private, and home schools, as well as post-secondary institutions in their jurisdiction,” he said. “Public school systems exist for the benefit of families. Families do not exist for the benefit of school systems.”
The last principle targets transparency. “School board members must ensure that the school system is fully transparent,” Stoops said. “The school board must guarantee that the public has easily accessible, searchable, and timely information about all aspects of the operation of the school system, except those subject to confidentiality statutes.”
Voters who like this checklist can use a similar JLF guide for city and town council candidates. The JLF research staff unveiled that checklist in August.
“Many voters get frustrated when they hear candidates offer the same vague promises during every election campaign,” Stoops said. “A simple, easy-to-use checklist will help voters get answers to important questions. Then they can decide which candidates will deliver the best service to their children and the community.”
The John Locke Foundation’s “Crucial Questions: A Checklist for School Board Candidates and Citizens,” is available at the JLF Web site. For more information, please contact Stoops at (919) 828-3876 or [email protected]. To arrange an interview, contact Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or [email protected].