School board shouldn’t have a majority party


A Republican president, a Democrat House and a Republican Senate, but a Democrat school board? It is easy to forget that the school board is a political body in Pennsylvania. Yet, when the main job of the school board is to oversee education, it would make more sense to not allow one party be the dominating voice.

When citizens vote for school board members in any district, they pay attention to what party the candidate is affiliated with. For example, a candidate can be listed as a Democrat, a Republican, Independent or cross-filed (when a candidate runs as a member of their own party as well as another party). After the most recent election, there are no more Republicans. This is a problem, not because of the voters’ choices, but because decisions regarding our education should be made by people of varying ideologies.

The school board has many important functions, notably adopting an annual budget and levying taxes. These responsibilities are particularly political. Democrats are likely to support increased taxes, while Republicans are likely to be against them. For this reason, it is best to have an ideologically balanced school board to ensure there is deliberation featuring voices from both sides of the aisle.

In Pennsylvania, school board members receive no monetary compensation. They also have to put hundreds of hours into meetings, where they adopt courses of study, negotiate employee contracts and buy and sell land, among other duties. Thus, members should be taking on this responsibility as a commitment to making public education the best it can be rather than to appease their party bases. However, as with most cases of partisan politics, everything is about reelection. If a member supports policies that align with their party’s goals, then they have a higher chance of being reelected for another term.

Preferably, school board members would vote based on the reasonableness of the policy proposed rather than political leanings, but that is not always possible. We all have inner biases, which typically correspond with party ideals. To counteract this as well as the influence of reelection, a change must be made through legislation.

One possible solution is to apportion four of the nine seats on the school board to Democrats and another four to Republicans, with the last seat being held by an Independent. Democrat Party members would vote to fill the Democrat seats and likewise for Republicans and Independents. Alterations to the seat allotment described above can be made based on the composition of the population so long as no party has the majority. That way, school board members can espouse their parties’ ideals as much as they want, but without a majority, no party will be able to make every decision. Compromise and extensive discussion would be forced to occur; different takes on policies would expose weaknesses that would have otherwise gone unnoticed and unaddressed; and Independents would act as swing votes in situations where members strictly vote along party lines.

Some may say that this proposal limits democracy since it restricts the number of seats given to each party. However, citizens still maintain the right to vote for the candidate of their choice within their respective parties. Additionally, school affairs would ideally not be political at all. The recommended policy is the next best option that, at the same time, maintains people’s suffrage.

It is important to note that if the school board only had Republican members, there would still be the same level of concern. Our education is in the hands of the school board. We should not let control by one political party get in the way of that.