The Oklahoman (Sunday)

Low voter turnout for school board elections seen as problem

- Mary Mélon

Voter turnout in Oklahoma is lower than the national average, even in general elections. Voter turnout for school board elections is lower still.

The primary election for Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education chairperso­n held on Feb. 9 had a 40% decrease in voters from the election four years ago.

The weather certainly played a big role, as it was frigid and icy that day.

But with 139,206 eligible voters and fewer than 5,000 voting this year and just 7,800 voting in 2017, there is much work to be done to increase voter turnout for these vitally important elections.

The primary duties of a district's school board include hiring and evaluating the superinten­dent, policy making and planning, reviewing and approving annual budgets and audits, and advocating on issues pertaining to public education with city, county and state elected officials. They do not oversee day to day operations, but play a role in guiding the broad strategic direction of the district.

This is a big job for a group of people who are paid $25 per meeting.

In addition to weather challenges, having school board elections in off-cycle time periods may also play a part in turnout, as does voter apathy. Changing the election cycle is a question for another day.

Why voters in Oklahoma City Public Schools district should care about these elections is also a complex issue. While it may sound cliched, it is not an overstatem­ent to say that our very future relies on it.

There has been tremendous progress made due to strong leadership in the Superinten­dent position in the past three years. Electing school board members who want to maintain consistenc­y in that role, build on that momentum and support OKCPS as they transition post pandemic is critical.

In Oklahoma City Public Schools, there will be a runoff election for the chairperso­n position between incumbent Paula Lewis and Charles Henry. In addition, voters will decide the District 1 seat between Brett Hayes and Carole Thompson and District 2 seat between Lori Bowman and James McHenry. District 7 incumbent

Meg McElhaney didn't draw an opponent.

If you live in the Oklahoma City Public Schools district, or have a school board election in any metro-area school district on April 6, please get to know the candidates and gain an understand­ing of their platforms. And, please, please vote.

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