Despite the countless political ads you see on TV and social media, the most important offices on your ballot might not be the ones at the top of the ticket.
Partisan elections get a lot of attention as parties and groups compete for your vote for president, US Senate, Congress, state and county offices and the legislature.
Few people realize that in Maricopa County alone, there are also 231 school board candidates running for a chance to lead a school district like the one many of you live in.
Despite aspiring to the monumentally important task of overseeing the proper education and the well-being of our children, school board candidates and their elections receive too-little attention.
We already know parents care about high-quality education for their children. We’re well-aware that homeowners understand how good schools are one of the top factors in increasing property values.
It’s also obvious that taxpayers and voters care about their money: school boards in Maricopa County collectively spend several billion in public dollars each year performing their educational duties.
But that’s only part of the reason why our local school board elections are more important now than ever.
School governing boards have an immense amount of authority in determining school district policy, like deciding when to safely reopen or how to have online and hybrid learning in the meantime.
School boards typically have five members serving four-year terms, with three of those seats up for election this year.
The races are nonpartisan, meaning political parties do not pre-select nominees to appear on the general election ballot.
The election of school board members is 100 percent in the hands of the voters in the general election.
Many parents and even teachers recently were surprised to learn how powerful local school boards are, as we watched first-hand how differently they addressed significant issues affecting communities, such as the current pandemic.
While some districts moved completely to online learning this fall, others have recently (or will soon) jumped right back into in-person learning.
None of these decisions by school boards were made in a vacuum, as district after district conducted numerous surveys, special meetings and community events as they gathered community input before making decisions.
To help voters make decisions about electing school board candidates, who usually can’t afford to run TV ads or extensive social media campaigns, my office’s website has information on every school board candidate running in Maricopa County at schoolsup.org.
-Steve Watson is a former high school teacher and currently the Maricopa County School Superintendent.