School boards should reflect the community

In a letter to the Statesville Record & Landmark, Bryan Shoemaker, a member of the Iredell-Statesville Schools Board of Education, takes the president of the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) to task for her contention that school boards should be composed mainly of individuals from the education establishment.  Mr. Shoemaker writes,

At the recent convention of the North Carolina Association of Educators, state President Sheri Strickland made the statement that “too often people elected to school boards have little or no education experience, other than attending public schools themselves.” She also stated it is time for that to change. According to Ms. Strickland, a school board should be made up of only those who have worked in the education profession. I have the utmost respect for education professionals, but respectfully disagree with the NCAE and Ms. Strickland.

Her statement is disrespectful to all school board members who take their position seriously, care deeply about public education, and happen to come from professions other than education.

A local board of education should be representative of the entire community and include those from all backgrounds and professions. Placing limitations on who can be elected to public office based on experience or level of education is unconstitutional and contrary to the democratic process.

Let’s focus on the real issues we face with education and let the voters decide on who will represent them.

Without a doubt, input from former public school teachers and administrators is critical.  But school districts are complex organizations that rely on individuals with expertise in finance, facilities, technology, human resources, and the like.  It makes sense to have school board members with the knowledge, skills, and experience to ensure that ancillary functions are efficient and, most importantly, support classroom instruction.

Mr. Shoemaker’s point about potentially unconstitutional and undemocratic limitations on public offices is worth exploring.  The Framers of the North Carolina Constitution knew better than to restrict qualifications for public office.  According to Article VI, Section 6, “Every qualified voter in North Carolina who is 21 years of age, except as in this Constitution disqualified, shall be eligible for election by the people to office.”  This applies to §115C?37 of the NC General Statutes, which addresses the election of school board members.  Why did the Framers of the NC Constitution eliminate barriers to elective office?  Obviously, they did not want to disenfranchise certain groups.  More importantly, it is an implicit acknowledgment that experience and credentials do not guarantee competence. It promotes the powerful (republican with a small “r”) idea of citizen-politicians.

As I have said before, diverse perspectives and experiences strengthen elected bodies.  Groupthink is efficient (see North Carolina State Board of Education), but it also discourages creativity, innovation, and enterprise.  It stifles vision. That is not to say that all citizen-politicians are good and all others are bad.  But it does lead one to consider what it means to “qualify” for office.

Terry Stoops / Vice President for Research and Director of Education Studies

Terry Stoops is the Vice President for Research and Director of Education Studies at the John Locke Foundation. Before joining the Locke Foundation, he worked as the progra...

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