| October 3, 2011

State’s largest newspaper, OCU law professor: Consider moving school board elections to November

“Low turnout traditionally is a problem with school board and school bond elections as voter participation percentages are at times in the single digits,” The Oklahoman editorialized on September 26 (“Moving school board elections might help counter voter apathy”).

Indiana hopes to increase turnout by moving all its school board elections to coincide with the November general election. It’s an idea Oklahoma needs to consider.

In Oklahoma City, a February 2009 school board election managed only an 8 percent turnout of registered voters. The October 2007 bond issue drew only 11 percent of registered voters. Those figures likely would increase with the move to the November elections. … The shift also would have another advantage. Eliminating special school board elections would save money. Perhaps those funds could be funneled back to the schools.

In addition to increasing voter turnout and saving taxpayers money, the shift to November would have yet another advantage, one articulated by Oklahoma City University law professor Andrew Spiropoulos last week in The Journal Record (“Taking back control of our schools”). Commenting on the vindictive thuggery of the leaders of the Jenks and Tulsa Union school districts, Dr. Spiropoulos, who serves as the Milton Friedman Distinguished Fellow at OCPA, said moving school elections would help local citizens regain control of their schools.

Instead of placidly accepting that school boards and administrators will do anything to protect their narrow interests, we should think hard about why it is so difficult to displace even the worst of school boards and how we can make it easier for communities to do right.

Many believe an important reason why most communities have done a poor job in electing school board members committed to reining in the worst instincts and actions of the school establishment is the timing of school board elections. Instead of requiring that elections be in November, we hold them at off times during the year. This guarantees an abysmal voter turnout …

It is not just that ordinary citizens don’t show up to the polls—the real problem is the people who do. The people who vote in a stand-alone, low-turnout election are disproportionately those individuals who have a personal stake in the outcome and are organized to further these selfish interests—special-interest groups. Candidates supported by teacher unions and the rest of the school establishment are likely to prevail when everyone else isn’t paying attention.

Schools are too important to the community to be left solely in the control of the people who draw a paycheck from them. Moving school board elections to November, when turnout and engagement with politics is at its peak, will help turn popular control of schools from a patriotic fairy tale into a reality.

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