Many important decisions will be made by current Lawrence school board members before they leave office at the end of June, but continuing state funding cuts ensure that many important and difficult decisions also will await new board members who take office on July 1.
Although three incumbent board members chose not to seek re-election this year, Lawrence is fortunate to have a strong field of nine candidates, including one incumbent, seeking to fill four board positions on this year’s ballot. Most of the candidates are seeking elective office for the first time, but they offer a variety of personal and professional experience and expertise, along with a desire to serve. It’s important that voters get to know these candidates through forums, interviews and news stories available on LJWorld.com so they can make educated choices at the polls on Tuesday.
The current board has voted to close one elementary school next fall, but it likely will fall to the new board to decide how or whether to implement the elementary school task force’s recommendations to further reduce the number of elementary schools in the district. Reduced state funding also will force the board to make difficult choices about the district’s priorities. For instance, athletics and other extracurricular activities are important, but, if push comes to shove, are they more important than full-day kindergarten, smaller classes, vocational training, retaining high-quality teachers or other factors that influence student achievement?
It’s important for voters to look not only at what candidates think about these issues now, but how they will work with the public to set priorities for the district in the future. Board members need to share as much information as they can and listen carefully to the community they serve.
With any luck, emotionally charged issues such as possible school closings may increase interest in the school board election and boost voter turnout for both the school board and City Commission elections on Tuesday. Regardless of the cause, higher voter concern and turnout is a positive development in local elections.
Following one public forum, one candidate complimented his fellow candidates by saying that it would be hard for voters to go wrong this year and choosing from among the school board candidates would be primarily a matter of “personal preference.”
That may be true, but there are differences among the candidates, and voters still face an important choice. The right to express a “personal preference” about the people who will set the future direction for Lawrence schools is something district voters shouldn’t take lightly.