Saturday, February 23, 2008

Frisco School Board: Run for it!

Most Frisco residents wouldn’t have trouble picking Mayor Mike Simpson out of a crowd. A large number, I suspect, could also name and identify at least a couple of our city council members. These are high-profile positions, and most of the members do a great job of getting out in front of Frisco citizens at every opportunity.

Less visible, however, are the members of the Frisco Independent School District’s Board of Trustees. In a recent, very-unscientific poll, I found that most people couldn’t even name one board member. I did get a few near misses, but I have to set the record straight. That “Reedy guy” is actually District Superintendent Dr. Rick Reedy, who is not technically a member of the Board. Sadly, individuals like 10-year board member and current secretary Laura Ellison didn’t leap to mind. It’s curious that Board members aren’t better known, considering their average tenure is over 5 years.

Then again, perhaps it’s not surprising that residents aren’t familiar with our School Board members. Last year we didn’t even have a board election, as the two members who’s seats were up (Rene Ehmke and Dan Mossakowski) did not draw an opponent. The year before, Cindy DePaolantonio and Buddy Minnett also avoided an election, though there was a bond issue on the ballot. (It passed.) So it’s been almost three years since we’ve had a contested board election. Considering the population growth over that span, almost 20% of our residents have never voted for any member of the School Board!

Now, unless you have kids in the local school system, you probably don’t pay much attention to the School Board. But you should. One of their primary duties is to set the tax rate each year, which has a direct impact on your pocketbook regardless of your parental status. I know that the check I recently wrote to Frisco ISD was 50% larger than the one I sent to Collin County. Of course, along with setting the tax rate, the Board also lays out the annual budget. So they get to take your money and then spend it. I’m betting that now you’re a bit more interested in who these Board members are, huh?

On top of their fiscal duties, the Board wields a lot of other power. They are the body responsible for acquiring and holding school property. Look around Frisco and you’ll see just how much land that entails. Plus, the Board can exercise Eminent Domain rights in property acquisitions. This has certainly been one of the most hotly-debated civic powers in recent years. And naturally they have a large say in what gets taught in our schools.

So what qualifies someone to serve on the school board? On paper, not much. If you’re a US citizen, over 18, who is neither mentally incapacitated or a convicted felon, then congratulations! You can serve on the school board. In reality, it’s a bit trickier. Each Board member must be elected to their three-year term in office. So you’d have to convince a majority of voters that you have what it takes to serve. This may not be as hard as it sounds, though, as the last Trustee to win an election, Brenda Polk, needed only 900 votes to beat her opponent. (She actually received over 3300 votes, giving her a whopping 78% victory margin.)

Unlike many other civic boards, School Board members do require ongoing education. New members must take a 3 hour course on the Texas Education Code. And throughout their term, they must fulfill continuing education requirements. So if you’re going to serve on the board, you have to be a student as well. That’s fair. Given the critical – and powerful – nature of their duties, you’d think that more citizens would step forward to serve on the board. But as I’ve pointed out, this just isn’t the case. Perhaps it’s a matter of not knowing what’s required. Or maybe people just don’t have the time. But whatever the reason, it’s a sad statement on our sense of civic duty that so few candidates appear. This year, we’re guaranteed a contest, as at least one candidate has filed to run against incumbent Richard Beavers. Brenda Polk is up for re-election as well, though as of press time, no challenger has stepped forward. The filing period lasts through March 10th, so there’s still plenty of time to get in the race.

In most areas, School Board elections are some of the most contentious around. It is, perhaps, a testament to the efficiency of Frisco ISD, and Dr. Reedy’s leadership that so few residents feel the need to challenge the status-quo. And yet, I know there’s no shortage of strong opinions around when it comes to our schools. So the next time I hear someone complain about the new school zones, or the amount of taxes they’re paying, I’ve got a simple response. If you don’t like it, run for it!

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