Don't sit out the school board election
The November election could not be more important for the Heights community. The future direction of municipal government and the school district will be defined by whom we elect.
As a public school advocate, I am focused on the seven candidates who are running for three seats on the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Board of Education.
They have vast differences in values, motivation, experience and priorities. There are stark contrasts in their styles, involvement with our schools, and commitment to public education. There are real choices to be made that will affect student experiences and our community’s identity.
Please get informed about this lineup and then vote on Nov. 2. We have a significant opportunity to shape our collective future and reaffirm our commitment to the common good.
According to the Ohio School Boards Association, the job of a school board member is to “set policies that ensure all public school students receive an effective and appropriate education.”
It’s a clear and profound responsibility. While public education is both a state and local responsibility, it is at the local level that the rubber meets the road. Local school boards working with superintendents shape daily life in schools.
I asked five community members about the characteristics they will look for in a school board member. Their responses were helpful.
Everyone noted that board members must value public education and all that it stands for. This should be a given, but as education has become partisan, one cannot assume universal commitment. They must also value the students and the teachers who are the frontline workers.
Krista Hawthorne, executive director of Reaching Heights, explained the importance of valuing both: “I need to feel the candidate sincerely cares about the students and school staff, and truly believes that they deserve the best learning and teaching environment that we can provide to them."
Attitudes are important. Leaders should believe in our community and the diversity we embrace, be both realistic and optimistic about public education and the many challenges that exist, and be willing to work for fair and adequate funding. Advocacy at the state level is part of the job.
Decision-making requires a willingness to invest the time needed to be well informed, as well as being able to listen to and consider all sides of a debate.
Board members must be respectful of the public and demonstrate civility. It’s a complex task, because they must appreciate the needs of students, teachers and the community.
More than 70 percent of Cleveland Heights voters turned out for the 2020 presidential election. By contrast, the largest number of votes cast for a school board member in the election held in 2017 was 7,266—just 16.7 percent of the registered voters in the school district. There was clearly a lot at stake in the presidential race, but the hyper-local election was also consequential and deserved a much higher level of participation.
Democracy, equality, unity and the common good are on the line. How this plays out for the students, staff and community members of our school district will depend on who we choose to ensure high-quality education for our students.
This election offers a way to participate in shaping the bigger issues driving our society. Please don’t sit this one out!
The CH-UH chapter of the League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland and FutureHeights will present an online school-board candidates' forum on Thursday, Oct. 7, at 7 p.m. More information can be found at https://my.lwv.org/ohio/greater-cleveland.
Susie Kaeser has been a proud Cleveland Heights resident siince 1979. She is the former director of Reaching Heights and is active with the Heights Coalition for Public Education and the League of Women Voters.