Tahlequah Daily Press

January 27, 2014

School board races not high-profile, but they can be very important


TAHLEQUAH — Not many people would argue that the most important resource for a community is its children, and ensuring those children get a good education should be a top priority.

Then why do so few people turn out to vote in annual school board elections?

We complain about state and federal government attempts to wrest control from local hands, whether through bills to ensure students can wear logo T-shirts from lobbying groups, or Common Core standards and No Child Left Behind. Paradoxically, though, we can’t bother to safeguard that local control by showing up at the polls and picking the best people to make decisions about our schools. And when we do vote, we choose a friend or relative, or the guy who goes to Kiwanis Club meetings with us. Sometimes, we don’t have a clue who the candidates are or what they stand for.

It’s true that many school boards are stacked through the good ol’ boy system by power players who have as little chance of being successfully challenged as a 20-year civil servant does of being fired for poor performance. That could be one reason for voter apathy. And many of us are simply too busy to leave work early or delay milking the cows to cast ballots in an off-season election.

But not only should we make the time to vote, we should take the time to educate ourselves about the candidates and their qualifications and philosophies. These are the people, after all, who will hire the administrators who run our schools, and who in turn hire the teachers – who often spend more time with our kids than we do ourselves.

Three Cherokee County schools will host elections Feb. 11, and Hulbert School District voters are being asked to fill two seats. Those races many be important, but even more noteworthy is the fact that seats in the seven remaining rural school districts went unchallenged. In some cases, it may be because an incumbent is doing a standout job. In others, it may be another case of voter apathy.

An unusual situation manifested itself in the Tahlequah district, where the lone candidate, Scott Pursley, won by default after failing to draw an opponent. But eligibility issues arose, and now that seat will have to be filled through appointment or special election.

But for the record, here are how the four races have shaped up: In Hulbert, JuaNita Keener and Rachel Lynn McAlvain are vying for Seat 2, while Trent L. Bowlin and Kathy Ritchie are seeking Seat 4. In Keys, it’s a three-way race among Radean Ritchie Foreman, Julie Smith and Rick Patrick. Briggs will see another three way: Shannon Tate Robertson, Annette Long-Stinnett and Deretha Dawes.

If you’re a voters in these districts and you don’t know much about your potential board members, we may be able to help with that. In the next week, we’re going to make contact with the candidates and ask a few key questions. We can’t promise they’ll all respond, but if they don’t, that in itself will answer a big question for you.

So stay tuned – and pledge to get involved.