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Much to consider on school board ballots

by Daily Inter Lake
| April 18, 2021 12:00 AM

Ballots for the upcoming school board trustee elections will be arriving in area mailboxes this week, and voters may notice an amplified interest in these board positions.

Kalispell Public Schools, for instance, has a whopping 10 candidates vying for open seats, while West Valley has eight candidates in the mix and Smith Valley has seven on the ballot. Some years, there’s barely enough candidates to match the number of open seats, which leads to trustees being “elected” by acclamation.

That isn’t an issue this go-around.

School boards across the nation have been under heightened scrutiny since the beginning of the pandemic. Meetings that are rarely attended by the public have drawn hundreds of attendees chiming in through Zoom or Google Meet calls. Lively discussions have centered around in-person and remote learning alternatives, mask requirements, and other safety protocols brought on by the virus.

Meanwhile, trustees have been left to make no-win decisions that are embraced by half the district and scorned by the remainder.

To see so many candidates expressing interest in these trustee seats is admirable. It can be a thankless, time-consuming job, no doubt, but one of utmost importance to the community at large.

But here’s the thing: School board agendas will likely look vastly different by next fall. Discussions will shift away from Covid protocol and revert back to curriculum, budgeting, scheduling and personnel. The sort of “mundane” topics that rarely draw a peep of public participation.

But these important discussions keep our public school systems on track, and these are the issues trustee candidates will be faced with if elected.

If a local school board’s response to Covid — or lack thereof — inspired a candidate to get into the election mix, that’s great. But voters should be looking deeper. A candidate’s take on virus safety protocols isn’t without merit, but there’s so much more to the job. Do they understand a budget? How about experience in education or child development? What is their motive to get involved for the long-haul — not just the topic of the moment?

It was also disheartening to see that a local political party decided to weigh in on these nonpartisan elections. As if the red-blue divide needs to seep into every aspect of our lives, right down to the local school boards.

All the more reason for voters to get informed, look beyond the rhetoric, and make their own decision about what’s best for the district.

Last week the Daily Inter Lake began rolling out a series of Q&A’s with trustee candidates that will help guide voters through the process. If you missed your school district in the print edition, you can find all of the Q&A’s online at www.dailyinterlake.com/news/local-elections/

Be sure to have your ballot turned in by May 4 — your vote will help shape the future of education in the valley.