OP-ED: School Board Elections: More important than you thinkWashCo Dems op-ed article

By Lisa Stiller, Washington County Democrats Education Caucus Chair

Next month you will be voting again, mostly for local office elections. Arguably among the most important of these are school board elections.  School boards make decisions that have far reaching effects on students, families, and communities.

The decisions they make determine the quality of education students get, which impacts their future, and the future of our students is the future of our communities, our state, and our country. As a long time educator, and as a parent who saw three children survive several different school systems, I know the direct impact these decisions have on a personal level.

School boards make funding decisions.

I believe those decisions should be centered on what can we do, and what programs do we want, to give each student a quality education to prepare them to be reach their potential, thrive, and be contributing members of their communities. Research clearly shows that class size, adequate support staff (psychologists, counselors, mental health providers, health care staff, social workers, and librarians), technical and vocational education, and a robust arts program are essential to attaining theses goals.

Our school board members must be invested in downsizing, rather than increasing, class size.

Yes, that means more teachers so more students can get the attention they need. Thirty, thirty-five, forty students in a class is not acceptable, at any level. Students simply cannot learn in classes that large. As some of our suburbs are continuing to grow, we can’t keep throwing more students into the same classrooms. We need more classrooms and more teachers.

National professional associations recommend 250:1 ratio for counselors and social workers.  Not 400 or 450 to 1. These specialists are there to help each student succeed, overcome challenges that stand in their way, and provide them opportunities to help them reach their goals. They work with students, families, and the community to help make this happen. Yes, it does take a village.

Schools that invest in programs where students can get hands on career training keep students in school.

If students know they can walk out of high school and get a well-paying job, (whether or not they are planning on higher education), they are more likely to be invested in graduating.

Schools must support the arts: music, art, dance, drama.

These are often the first programs to get cut, yet so many students stay in school because these programs are there for them.

That’s a lot for schools to support and fund. But if we want to see our children to succeed academically and socially, if we want our children leaving high school ready for higher education and/or living wage careers, we must prioritize school board candidates who also support funding these priorities.

In the era of Covid, we have another more immediate consideration: we must support school board candidate who will follow science and prioritize staff, student, family, and community health and safety.

The Oregon Health Authority lists the number students and staff who have tested positive in Oregon k-12 schools every week. Hundreds are reported each week. We must support candidates who will advocate to our state and national leaders for school building opening decisions that puts health and safety first, and for  funding for all that is needed for safe schools, including state of the art ventilation systems for each school. Until staff, students, families, and community members have all had the opportunity to be vaccinated (and even after), decisions about in person learning need to take into consideration that health and safety come first. There are decisions to be made about schools opening next fall that will impact everyone.

Vote carefully for your school board members. Their decisions will have far reaching ramifications on us all. Be sure to vote for candidates who take science seriously, and are willing to push back on state directives that might be placing an agenda of economy over the health and safety of our students, staff, families, and communities.

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