When it comes to public service, no office may be more overlooked – and more directly consequential to the lives of its community members – than the school board member. School board membership wields massive power and responsibility at the local education level, giving officeholders significant leeway to enact policies that directly impact students and parents.
However, the process for actually becoming a school board member, and how to run for school board elections is not as widely known as the process for higher-profile offices like Senator or President, despite being just as important at a local level as those offices are at a national level.
School board members are community-elected citizens entrusted with the responsibility of making decisions pertaining to the local public school system. Their decisions are shaped by community expectations, objectives, and the unique challenges of promoting student achievement. Serving on a local school board can be an immensely rewarding experience, but it’s not for everyone. It demands a thorough consideration of various factors, including the financial commitment associated with campaigning and the dedication required to be an effective board member.
With all that in mind – and paying attention to the fact that school board election specifics will necessarily vary from school district to school district, state to state – here are some general steps for how to run for your local school board, and what to expect along the way.
This is the most important question you must answer for yourself before deciding to throw your hat in the ring and run for school board membership. Being a school board member is a significant commitment, both in terms of time and energy, so make sure you’re fully committed to all of the responsibilities and challenges that accompany serving on a local school board.
Though school boards typically consist of former educators, parents, and those with an educational background, all that’s truly needed to serve as an effective school board member is a genuine passion to improve educational outcomes in your district – and the education of this current generation of students will impact all district residents down the line. All community members have a stake in how their district’s education system is performing.
So before deciding to mount a campaign for school board, ask yourself: Are you passionate about improving student achievement and educational outcomes? Can you collaborate well with teams and parents? Are you able to handle the public responsibility?
Before making the choice to run for school board member, and all the commitment such a campaign necessitates, first make sure that you fulfill all of the requirements to serve on your district’s school board. While specific eligibility requirements may vary slightly depending on which state and district your local school board is, many requirements are shared no matter where you’re running. In brief, here are the general eligibility requirements to determine if you’re qualified to run for your local school board:
Be at least 18 years old
Be a resident in the school district you wish to serve
Be a U.S. citizen
Have no felony convictions on your record
Physically and mentally capable of serving in public office
Nothing super out of the ordinary here, but bear in mind these are general, typical requirements. It’s imperative to research your specific district’s requirements for running for school board to ensure you’re meeting all of them. For example, some districts may employ term limits that rule certain board members for running for re-election, and some don’t.
Similarly to determining your eligibility for running for school board, each and every district will have slightly different, specific requirements in regards to filing your paperwork to make your candidacy official. So while the individual pieces of paperwork and deadlines for filing will differ from district to district, state to state, most school boards have roughly the same kinds of paperwork you’ll have to file in order to officially become a candidate for school board.
In general, you should expect to file some version of the following forms of paperwork:
Declaration of candidacy
In general, forms like these are simply a formal written statement declaring your intention to seek a school board spot in a specific school district. Forms like this may or may not need to be notarized depending on the district.
Almost all school boards require prospective candidates file financial disclosure forms that outline any potential conflicts of interest in regards to the candidate’s financial entanglements, and state ethics laws. Disclosures like these usually specify a campaign treasurer and certifies that you as the candidate will publicly disclose all campaign donations you receive.
No criminal history
Not all states and districts require would-be school board candidates to present petition signatures, but some absolutely do. Check with your local school board to find the specific requirements for garnering petition signatures.
Once you’ve gotten all of your requisite paperwork filed, your campaign can officially begin! Since 41 states currently prohibit school board members from declaring partisan associations, many school board races won’t have party primaries the way other offices do. However – like many specifics of school board campaigns – it depends on your state.
As a general rule of thumb, school board campaigns should be built around a robust messaging apparatus that outlines why you’re running for school board, what you view as the role of governance in public education, and what your strategies are for student achievement and meeting school district goals. Typical campaign strategies such as designing a logo, outlining your views and policies on a candidate website, and in-person campaign events should all be considered and followed through on.
Some other ideas that may serve your campaign for school board well could include activities like:
Attend current school board meetings to get a feel for how they are conducted and to establish relationships
Establish a group of supporters and volunteers that can help campaign on your behalf
Do your research on your community! Find the particular issues and problems facing the district to best position yourself as someone who can address them in office
Meet voters face to face during community events and outings
Like all elected offices, fundraising is an absolute necessity for generating name awareness and getting your message as a candidate out to as many prospective voters as possible – and running for school board is no different. Without proper financial resources, it may be quite the uphill climb to win a school board seat, especially if you’re challenging an incumbent. When it comes to fundraising for your campaign, there are several methods one should keep in mind to employ for maximum effect.
Firstly, setting up a donation form on your campaign website is the easiest way to allow your supporters to send money to your campaign. Because so much of finance is handled digitally these days, setting up a form on your website for people to send money is an absolute necessity - and also probably the single easiest method to employ for campaign fundraising.
Holding and/or attending fundraising events in person is also a hugely effective way to not only raise campaign funds from prospective supporters, but also a great way to interface with the community and listen to their perspective and their concerns. The more attentive and responsive you appear to voters, the higher likelihood that they’ll want to support your school board candidacy, and this type of direct retail politics and relationship-forming can’t be replicated online or digitally.
Gathering email addresses and phone numbers from the community to build out messaging lists is also a hugely effective method for generating fundraising figures. Text message blasts and regular email newsletter updates not only provide your supporters with an easy point of access for donating to your campaign, but they’re also fantastic ways to spread your campaign messaging and increase awareness of your specific ideas, policies, and actions you’d take once in office. Email lists and text message chains are fantastic ways to kill two birds with one stone – informing the community and giving supporters an easy way to donate.
If you’ve decided to run for a school board seat – or you’re still entertaining the thought of throwing your hat in the ring – connect with Good Party to access valuable resources, coaching, and step-by-step programs for running non-partisan campaigns. Good Party offers hands-on programs to help independent candidates win office at every level of governance – school board seats included.