Running for the school board

By Lynn Trimble • Photo by Daniel Friedman

Rick Fields of Glendale, Barb Mozdzen of Chandler and Pam Kirby of Paradise Valley.

Though Barb Mozdzen of Chandler and her children attended public schools, she “hadn’t given a lot of thought to the institution of public education” before running for a seat on her local school board. Mozdzen decided to run after talking with a neighbor about her 12 years of school board service. Now the mother of two young adult daughters and a son who is a college freshman, she serves as president of the governing board for the Chandler Unified School District.

Pam Kirby of Paradise Valley decided to run after several years of being a parent volunteer and assuming larger leadership roles each year. “I believe every child deserves a quality education and I wanted to volunteer my skill sets in pursuit of that goal,” says Kirby, who has a background in “finance, process improvement and change management.” Kirby serves on the governing board for the Scottsdale Unified School District and has three daughters who attended SUSD schools.

Rick Fields of Glendale decided to run because he felt that his experience as a volunteer and substitute teacher made him “knowledgeable about the needs of students and teachers alike” and that his business background gave him insight on “how to implement business practices” within a school district. Fields serves on the governing board for the Glendale Union High School District. He has a grown son and daughter who graduated from Sunnyslope High School.

All three agree that anyone considering a running for a school board position should get involved with their local schools and district in other ways ahead of time—whether volunteering in the classroom or serving on a budget or growth committee.

Volunteering helps prospective board candidates forge relationships, learn the issues and see the mechanics of how school business is conducted.

Attending school board meetings prior to running for office is important to help you understand board member responsibilities, meeting formats and what is going on in the school district, says Mozdzen.

Still, you don’t have to be an expert in order to run. Initial and ongoing board member training is available through the Arizona School Board Association (azsba.org). School districts also provide orientation and training materials to new board members.

Legally, a school board candidate must be a registered voter who lives within the boundaries of the school district. He or she must have lived in the district for at least one year immediately preceding the day of the election.

Beyond that, a board member should be someone who maintains an open mind and enjoys spending time communicating with taxpayers in their district, says Fields. Good people skills and communication skills are a must. Board members need the ability to work rationally with others, observes Mozdzen.

Candidates shouldn’t expect to sweep in big changes once elected. Individual school board members have no real power, says Mozdzen. “School board members are policy makers, not micromanagers.” Even changes agreed to by several school board members often take time to enact and implement.

“The most important thing to remember is that you are not running for school board to run the district on a day to day basis,” reflects Fields. “The job description is to make policy, guide the budget process and hire or fire a superintendent.”
Before deciding to run, consider whether your own interests, approach and skill sets are a good match with serving on your local school board. Both candidates and board members need the ability to ask questions and listen for understanding, according to Kirby.

You should spend time chatting with constituents about their ideas and concerns. Fields recalls that “walking door to door and meeting people and getting their views was an unexpected benefit” of running for office.

Check with the Arizona School Board Association for details about running for office and serving on a school governing board.

The first step is to pick up an information packet from the county superintendent of schools. If you expect to spend more than $500 campaigning you must register a campaign committee and file campaign finance reports that itemize receipts and expenditures and identify anyone who contributes $25 or more. (If you expect to spend less than $500, you must file an exemption.) Then you must collect signatures in support of your candidacy. The number required varies based on voter registration levels. Once your signature pages are completed and filed with the county superintendent of schools you can run your campaign.

Running for office brings plenty of discouraging moments. Competing candidates aren’t always civil and some resort to tactics like removing others’ yard signs, says Fields. Press and community scrutiny can feel like an invasion of privacy. And once you’re elected, some may view you as the enemy.

“You have to not take things personally,” says Fields.

Once elected, school board members spend about six months to a year “learning the ropes,” says Mozdzen. Expect to spend five to seven days in training during the first year, and to review a lot of reading materials. Mozdzen notes that the Chandler district’s governing board meets every two weeks and that she normally spends six hours of preparation before each meeting.

The time commitment for board members varies week to week, according to Kirby, who says she usually spends about 10 hours a week on board-related business. All agree that there are several commitments outside of school board meetings, such as events with faculty and student graduation ceremonies, which take up additional time. Election is for a four-year term, except for those positions filling a vacancy in office. The position is unpaid though some expenses may be reimbursed.

Despite the challenges, these are exciting times for individuals elected to serve on their local school board.

“Schools are very different than when I was young,” says Mozdzen. In addition to teaching academics, today’s schools are expected to handle things like character education, discipline, citizenship and time management. “We are redefining schools,” says Mozdzen. School board members are an important part of the process.

Scottsdale writer Lynn Trimble is the mother of Christopher, 22, Jennifer, 20, and Lizabeth, 18.

Election timetable

• Governing board elections take place during the general elections (even years). The next election is Tuesday, Nov. 6.
• Signature requirements are based on March 1 voter registration totals.
• Petitions to get your name on the ballot may be filed as early as July 9 (120 days prior to the election) but must be filed no later than 5pm on Aug. 8 (90 days prior to the election).

Source: Hope Olguin, elections specialist, Maricopa County Education Service Agency

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